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A Still Life: A Memoir

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Josie George lives in a tiny terraced house in the urban West Midlands with her son. Since her early childhood, she has lived with the fluctuating and confusing challenge of disabling chronic illness. Her days are watchful and solitary, lived out in the same hundred or so metres around her home. But Josie's world is surprising, intricate, dynamic. She has learned what to lo Josie George lives in a tiny terraced house in the urban West Midlands with her son. Since her early childhood, she has lived with the fluctuating and confusing challenge of disabling chronic illness. Her days are watchful and solitary, lived out in the same hundred or so metres around her home. But Josie's world is surprising, intricate, dynamic. She has learned what to look for: the complex patterns of ice on a frozen puddle; the routines of her friends at the community centre; the neighbourhood birds in flight; the slow changes in the morning light, in her small garden, in her growing son, in herself. In January 2018, Josie sets out to tell the story of her still life, over the course of a year. As the seasons shift, and the tides of her body draw in and out, Josie begins to unfurl her history: her childhood bright with promise but shadowed by confinement; her painful adolescence and her hopeful coming of age; the struggle of her marriage, and the triumph of motherhood. And then a most unexpected thing happens in Josie's quiet present: she falls in love. A Still Life is a story of illness and pain that rarely sees the light: illness and pain with no end or resolution; illness and pain that we must meet with courage, joy, ingenuity and hope. Against a world which values 'feel good' progress and productivity above all else, Josie sets out a quietly radical alternative: to value and treasure life for life itself, with all its defeats and victories, with all its great and small miracles.


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Josie George lives in a tiny terraced house in the urban West Midlands with her son. Since her early childhood, she has lived with the fluctuating and confusing challenge of disabling chronic illness. Her days are watchful and solitary, lived out in the same hundred or so metres around her home. But Josie's world is surprising, intricate, dynamic. She has learned what to lo Josie George lives in a tiny terraced house in the urban West Midlands with her son. Since her early childhood, she has lived with the fluctuating and confusing challenge of disabling chronic illness. Her days are watchful and solitary, lived out in the same hundred or so metres around her home. But Josie's world is surprising, intricate, dynamic. She has learned what to look for: the complex patterns of ice on a frozen puddle; the routines of her friends at the community centre; the neighbourhood birds in flight; the slow changes in the morning light, in her small garden, in her growing son, in herself. In January 2018, Josie sets out to tell the story of her still life, over the course of a year. As the seasons shift, and the tides of her body draw in and out, Josie begins to unfurl her history: her childhood bright with promise but shadowed by confinement; her painful adolescence and her hopeful coming of age; the struggle of her marriage, and the triumph of motherhood. And then a most unexpected thing happens in Josie's quiet present: she falls in love. A Still Life is a story of illness and pain that rarely sees the light: illness and pain with no end or resolution; illness and pain that we must meet with courage, joy, ingenuity and hope. Against a world which values 'feel good' progress and productivity above all else, Josie sets out a quietly radical alternative: to value and treasure life for life itself, with all its defeats and victories, with all its great and small miracles.

30 review for A Still Life: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Over a year of lockdowns, many of us have become accustomed to spending most of the time at home. But for Josie George, social isolation is nothing new. Chronic illness long ago reduced her territory to her home and garden. The magic of A Still Life is in how she finds joy and purpose despite extreme limitations. Opening on New Year’s Day and travelling from one winter to the next, the book is a window onto George’s quiet existence as well as the turning of the seasons. (My full review will appea Over a year of lockdowns, many of us have become accustomed to spending most of the time at home. But for Josie George, social isolation is nothing new. Chronic illness long ago reduced her territory to her home and garden. The magic of A Still Life is in how she finds joy and purpose despite extreme limitations. Opening on New Year’s Day and travelling from one winter to the next, the book is a window onto George’s quiet existence as well as the turning of the seasons. (My full review will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Times Literary Supplement.) This is top of my wish list for next year’s Barbellion Prize shortlist.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fern Adams

    I suspect Josie George is one of those people who breathes words. Some writers seem to write because they like the idea of it, others you feel they wrestled the words to bend them to what they want and then there are writers like Josie who seem to write because they have to, because it is intrinsically part of who they are. I loved this book. I loved its authenticity, it’s honesty, it’s realness. I loved the observations of how many wonders there are every day, I loved that the hardships were no I suspect Josie George is one of those people who breathes words. Some writers seem to write because they like the idea of it, others you feel they wrestled the words to bend them to what they want and then there are writers like Josie who seem to write because they have to, because it is intrinsically part of who they are. I loved this book. I loved its authenticity, it’s honesty, it’s realness. I loved the observations of how many wonders there are every day, I loved that the hardships were not shied away from and that this was so real, yet so beautiful and I think maybe when we are real enough that in itself creates beauty. This book is a memoir of one woman who lives with her son in the middle of England somewhere (my English geography is minimal!). She has chronic illnesses that keep her world geographically small but yet allow her to notice a depth that so many miss. She records her life over one year in real time, while looking back over her past and what has led her to the moments now; health, growing up, jobs, adjusting to a life that not many experience and certainly not many talk about. The writing is exquisite and is exactly the sort of thing I thing you would read if there was a way to morph the fictional and real writing personalities of Anne Shirley, Virginia Woolf and Mary Oliver together. I’ve not quite read anything exactly like it yet it also felt familiar in a comforting sort of way too. A few days ago I reviewed another book and said that one of the main joys of reading is it allows you to experience a life that you could never experience otherwise, for many I think this book will do this. For me though it allowed me my other reading joy, it let me know I’m not alone. It was so wonderful and refreshing to read about someone with similar illnesses to me and it not automatically fall into the tropes of self-pity, inspirational or anything like it. It just states life as a fact, acknowledges the difficulties and then offers up all the wonders it can contain. I think we need a lot more like this. It helped me enormously reading it and I think this will be a guiding light for many and a book friend to help show that it’s okay. A life within a small space due to disability need not be one to be pitied, it may not offer much diversity of scene but it can offer a stillness and observation and depth that constantly being on the move cannot provide. I cried a bit at some of the parts talking about the search for a diagnosis, the loneliness and everyday of illness because I think it’s one of the first times I’ve read something that resembles my own last few years in print. Representation really does matter and you don’t always know it until it’s not there. Ultimately though this, I think, is a book of hope. Not in the twee sense of it will all come out in the wash and be fine tomorrow but in a more earthy root sense, that whatever happens there is good, there is joy, there is things to be amazed at and notice and be part of. Having now rambled on about this amazing book for quite long enough I shall simply end with saying it’s a book you need in your life!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alison S

    4.5 stars rounded up. Honest and beautiful writing. After a year spent learning how to live through lockdown and with a newly diagnosed chronic health condition, this really resonated with me. A book about mindfulness, gratitude, acceptance, being in the moment, finding joy in the overlooked and the everyday, and a freeing and total acceptance of yourself and your life as it is now.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Powell

    We need to hear more voices like this. As Josie herself identifies there are many people writing books about getting well, and recovering. We also need to hear from people with invisible illnesses, people who are chronically unwell. Each sentence really shone and the whole thing was a joy to read. It made me reframe my own health, and how I fight to 'be well'. Maybe I need to appreciate what I've got a little more! We need to hear more voices like this. As Josie herself identifies there are many people writing books about getting well, and recovering. We also need to hear from people with invisible illnesses, people who are chronically unwell. Each sentence really shone and the whole thing was a joy to read. It made me reframe my own health, and how I fight to 'be well'. Maybe I need to appreciate what I've got a little more!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Noelia Alonso

    (8/10) Gorgeously written. Honest and impactful.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Benjamin

    I’ve never read a book before when I felt I already knew something or indeed anything about the author .I’ve been following Jodie on twitter for a couple of years and have loved the way that the twitter community has revelled in her love story .I’ve followed the tweets that chronicled Fraser’s journey across the North Sea for Christmas and shared her joy in his arrival .I love her beautiful poetic language and it’s concentration on the little things of beauty that might otherwise go unrecorded . I’ve never read a book before when I felt I already knew something or indeed anything about the author .I’ve been following Jodie on twitter for a couple of years and have loved the way that the twitter community has revelled in her love story .I’ve followed the tweets that chronicled Fraser’s journey across the North Sea for Christmas and shared her joy in his arrival .I love her beautiful poetic language and it’s concentration on the little things of beauty that might otherwise go unrecorded .When I learned she had written a book I preordered it and gobbled it up as soon as it arrived on my trusty kindle . Until relatively recently my life has been very different to hers as I rushed through a busy working week and raised my own boys .And then it wasn’t so different and like she describes in her beautiful book I too had to slow to snails pace and live from my bed I adored this book ,it had me in tears often as I recognised the struggles so well .As she herself says many books are written about a persons ability to thrive and overcome adversity rather than as in this case simply live with the unrelenting unpredictability of chronic illness . The elements of the book I love the most however are Josie’s observations of mundane ordinary British life ,the descriptions of strangers viewed from a distance ,the grubby sweaty parents at school pick up ,the skin of the elderly ,the slurping of a milkshake ,the weeds pushing through the pavement.The language she uses is poetic and truly beautiful she has the skills of a great writer and I would love to read a novel she writes I shall be recommending this book to people generally but also selectively to people I know who will understand her health problems and who might feel a little bit less invisible after reading it .

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joana

    ...the audacity of it, of writing anything at all. Hidden deep in a society where I am supposed to be a machine that only works, consumes, pretends, and then begs for more, I rest... Being someone who rests in a world that glorifies, fetishises work more than any other thing is to be an alien among your own kind. It is to be treated much like one, too. Josie rests, not because she doesn't love work, but because her body doesn't allow her to do everything she'd wish to. Therefore she has learnt the ...the audacity of it, of writing anything at all. Hidden deep in a society where I am supposed to be a machine that only works, consumes, pretends, and then begs for more, I rest... Being someone who rests in a world that glorifies, fetishises work more than any other thing is to be an alien among your own kind. It is to be treated much like one, too. Josie rests, not because she doesn't love work, but because her body doesn't allow her to do everything she'd wish to. Therefore she has learnt the value of stillness, how to see the beauty in your immediate surroundings, how to really live in the moment and that we never really know what our future is, among many other lessons. I underlined the heck out of this book, it is fantastic. And it's particularly significant, if for any reason, physical or otherwise, your life is more confined than other people's.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christine Andrew

    A beautifully written memoir, carefully and truthfully considered. A lot to value. I wish Josie George well and look forward to more of her writing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I follow this author on Twitter, and prior to being chronically ill, I thought she had a really cool take on life. Since becoming chronically ill, her words have made me feel like I am enough even though I can't do what I used to do. A bought this memoir hoping there would be tips on how to live with a chronic illness, and I am so happy that it was not that at all. Josie finds the beauty in all the small things and joy in the slow things, and I need some more of that. I follow this author on Twitter, and prior to being chronically ill, I thought she had a really cool take on life. Since becoming chronically ill, her words have made me feel like I am enough even though I can't do what I used to do. A bought this memoir hoping there would be tips on how to live with a chronic illness, and I am so happy that it was not that at all. Josie finds the beauty in all the small things and joy in the slow things, and I need some more of that.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Josie

    I once, feeling sad and a bit lost and not knowing exactly why I was doing it, typed my name into the Twitter search bar. Up popped various accounts, including Josie George’s (her handle, @porridgebrain made me smile). I followed her immediately and over the next few years her life and way of thinking nurtured me. I read her tweets, blog posts, Instagram posts, and letters (until I was pregnant with my daughter and felt I should tighten my purse strings). This book is like those and yet not, bec I once, feeling sad and a bit lost and not knowing exactly why I was doing it, typed my name into the Twitter search bar. Up popped various accounts, including Josie George’s (her handle, @porridgebrain made me smile). I followed her immediately and over the next few years her life and way of thinking nurtured me. I read her tweets, blog posts, Instagram posts, and letters (until I was pregnant with my daughter and felt I should tighten my purse strings). This book is like those and yet not, because it is even better. Her words are soothing, touching, understated and yet each one is very solid and true. It’s a rare combination and I loved it so much.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Keir

    I loved this book. Beautiful, engaging writing style and full of such hope and love. I've been chronically ill for over a decade now and reading this I had this image of Josie being a little ahead of me, guiding and encouraging me in finding a path, a way of living, that is meaningful and worthwhile: even if you don't get better, don't get to be where you thought you'd be. I smiled a lot and cried a little. I know this is a book I'll read again, and dip into often. I loved this book. Beautiful, engaging writing style and full of such hope and love. I've been chronically ill for over a decade now and reading this I had this image of Josie being a little ahead of me, guiding and encouraging me in finding a path, a way of living, that is meaningful and worthwhile: even if you don't get better, don't get to be where you thought you'd be. I smiled a lot and cried a little. I know this is a book I'll read again, and dip into often.

  12. 4 out of 5

    L

    I absolutely raced through this book, but will be thinking of it for some time to come. I think it’s the kind of multi-layered book that will resonate with people for as many reasons as there are pages. But for me, it was the beautiful, unflinching and honest writing about the power of stories we tell ourselves and others, what we choose to see around us, and how moments - whether of joy or pain - will always come and go. I really loved it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cath Higgins

    My words could never do this stunning memoir justice but.. sometimes a book comes along that leaves you spellbound, speechless, grateful, and this is definitely one. If I could, I’d press it into the hands of everyone I know. A memoir of a rich, troubled, painful, rewarding and hopeful life, by a writer that somehow seems to have glimpsed into my own life, and probably yours too. I truly can’t recommend this book enough.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Price

    I’ve loved Josie’s writing from the very first tweet of hers that I saw, through Letters from Wonderland to Bimblings and this book is no different. It’s a beautiful memoir that I had to force myself to put down so I could sleep. I think there is something to be learnt by everyone in this book. I, for one, know I look for joy in the unexpected as a direct result of Josie’s writing and I’m far happier because of it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Deb Lonnon

    Book reviews 56/2021 - A still life, Josie George. Single Parenthhod is challenging enough enough at times. Single Parenthood with an incredibly dehabilitating disability where you lack enough 'spoons' of energy to function on a bad day and just enough to slowly, slowly pace yourself to your mobility scooter to take your child to school on others? This is Josie's life. Her disabilities fluctuate, confound doctors and confine her to a small world where she functions with joy in the small things a Book reviews 56/2021 - A still life, Josie George. Single Parenthhod is challenging enough enough at times. Single Parenthood with an incredibly dehabilitating disability where you lack enough 'spoons' of energy to function on a bad day and just enough to slowly, slowly pace yourself to your mobility scooter to take your child to school on others? This is Josie's life. Her disabilities fluctuate, confound doctors and confine her to a small world where she functions with joy in the small things and expands her world with imagination, perseverance and gratitude. I expect this will piss off some people as she is optimistic, full of joy and doesn't spend too much time or energy slagging off anyone who breathes at her wrong. Why waste the small energy you have on anger? At times I wanted to sit with her and hope that her positivity could somehow rub off on me. At others I found the love and chirpiness a bit 'much' - on balance, I was delighted with her small wins, of a community centre opening a stones throw from her front door, somewhere where she could just be and could be with other people. I am grateful for her friendships, her BFF and her fledgling romantic relationship formed from twitter (of all places!) & glimpsed that joy as she met her online lover for the first time - the nerves! The sheer relief it went well! There is a passage later in the book where she connects with everything, which I found especially beautiful, I am not separate.With just a little reach, I become an extension of the sway of conifer in the wind and the pace of the man with hunched shoulders who walks a small grey dog past my window, hidden in his hood. I become his shuffling feet and his blank stare. I become the neighbour backing her car out of a tight space, who I know twists her wedding ring and bites her hair. My dark eyes are black beetles and the tightness in me is the middle of the mountain. I nod and the pigeons on the roof tops nod; I breathe in slow and deep and the clouds move. I let my pen move across the page like a heartbeat, keeping it all alive. I become its will, its desire and its fear and I know that, in that, I have a purpose & always will do now, however slow I go and however many times I fail. Hugely enjoyable. Utterly #TeamJosie.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I'm giving this a more generous rating than correlates with my personal enjoyment level as this is not a bad book per se.. This was recommended to me by someone whose taste generally matches mine. However i unfortunately struggled with this book. While I absolutely loved the authors use of language and herself as a person, I really had trouble getting through this book The way she expresses herself is really beautiful especially when relating to nature or her surroundings However as I have not e I'm giving this a more generous rating than correlates with my personal enjoyment level as this is not a bad book per se.. This was recommended to me by someone whose taste generally matches mine. However i unfortunately struggled with this book. While I absolutely loved the authors use of language and herself as a person, I really had trouble getting through this book The way she expresses herself is really beautiful especially when relating to nature or her surroundings However as I have not experienced chronic pain or any form of life affecting debilitating illness or condition. I found it hard to engage with or raise interest in the subject matter. Having said that I would not be put off this author and would happily pick up anything else written by Josie. Also a personal preference in that I had not realised just how much reference there would be to her son. I went to follow her on Twitter but quickly unfollowed when her feed was totally dominated with her child. Children, parenting and love normally bore me to sleep as a topic so I am guaranteed to switch off immediately at any mention of them.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It is a perverse testament to the quality of this memoir and reflection on a life with chronic illness that I found it hard to read, and I am always wary when reviewing lest I am merely expressing sympathy or solidarity with the experiences described rather than the book as a book. I'll often read a memoir very quickly but I had to have something else on the go and not read it last thing before I went to sleep. It was beautifully written and I wonder at how something so kind and gentle can feel It is a perverse testament to the quality of this memoir and reflection on a life with chronic illness that I found it hard to read, and I am always wary when reviewing lest I am merely expressing sympathy or solidarity with the experiences described rather than the book as a book. I'll often read a memoir very quickly but I had to have something else on the go and not read it last thing before I went to sleep. It was beautifully written and I wonder at how something so kind and gentle can feel so raw, so full of mordant observation. There are many delicate balances to be negotiated in a book of this sort, with the message (insofar as it has one) it carries and Josie George has, it seems to me, felt her way along all of them. I suspect there will be many who simply don't 'get it' and that includes the sympathetic as well the smug know it alls who make still lives more difficult than they need to be.

  18. 5 out of 5

    HC

    I really enjoyed reading this book, I have now read it twice! A year in the life of the author who is living with severe physical limitations as she continues to grow in spirit, an unflinching look at past and present. It is an honest book, I feel. There is genuine wisdom here, learned the hard way. It is beautifully written, there is an intimacy in the words in a way that allows the reader breathing space and time to reflect.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Quinton

    Such a beautifully written memoir. I found great relief in reading an account of illness content in traversing the ups and downs without needing to close with some magical cure. The way Josie George commits to leading such a full life, regardless of what life throws at her, is a great inspiration. I hope one day to live alongside my own chronic illnesses with such grace.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hilary Campbell

    This is a beautiful book - inside and out. I kept stroking the feather on the front and expecting to feel the texture of a treasure found on a walk. Inside is beautiful storytelling of life, focussing in on details and panning out for a wider perspective. Honest wisdom, no fairy-tale ending, and the lovely strong strand of hope. So rich and a precious sharing. Thank you Josie!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Costa

    An excellent book for our current reality, or any reality really. Her writing is simple but thoughtful. Lots of powerful and meaningful observations about everyday life It was definitely a welcome reminder about finding gratitude and realizing that your choices are what shape your experiences in the world. And that there is so much worth finding.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Jeffrey

    A remarkable work that spans a year in the life of the author as she copes with a condition that restricts her activities. She shows us how rich a life can be when it is tested to the limit. As she reflects on birdsong and the joy of the changing seasons we realise how it took the silence of lockdown to make us start to notice the nature that surrounds us.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ros Edwards

    I have been living with M.E. for many years, bedbound for 5 years now. This book helped me so much - just as I was going through another round of new doctor suggesting harmful treatments. Josie writes beautifully, and through her eyes, I was reminded to notice things rather than think of my own current and ongoing woes. A real treasure of a book! Thankyou Josie so much

  24. 5 out of 5

    Suzy Cooper

    What a magnificent book. It seems deceptively quiet, following the days of the author as she lives with a body that limits what she can do – but it packs quite a punch. I had to keep putting it down to let it settle. It's beautiful. The words are beautiful and the observations of everyday things are brilliant. I look forward to reading other things she writes. What a magnificent book. It seems deceptively quiet, following the days of the author as she lives with a body that limits what she can do – but it packs quite a punch. I had to keep putting it down to let it settle. It's beautiful. The words are beautiful and the observations of everyday things are brilliant. I look forward to reading other things she writes.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jen Banks

    I’ve never read a memoir before so I didn’t really know what to expect, but this is a beautiful story of a year in the life of Josie. Her writing style is gentle and mesmerising, and I’m looking forward to reading her next book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Ibarra

    I commend the author for writing this book that helped her to understand and live with her physical problems. Unfortunately, it is not what I expected. I would describe it as a self-help book, but I feel glad for her if she achieved her objective.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eleni

    The best autobiography I've read. Josie tells the truth; simply, beautifully and with love. Everyone should read it. The best autobiography I've read. Josie tells the truth; simply, beautifully and with love. Everyone should read it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    An astonishing, affirming and utterly beautiful book. Read it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Barron

    What a wonderful book brimming with detailed and joyfilled obervations. A support to anyone who is finding life tough as Josie travels such a difficult path lightly. So very grateful to read it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    The wisest and kindest of memoirs/chronic illness narratives. Josie is a gift.

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