Nightshade Mother

A Disentangling

Author(s) Gwyneth Lewis

Language: English

Genre(s): Biography

  • September 2024 · 240 pages ·216x135mm

  • · Hardback - 9781915279903
  • · eBook - epub - 9781915279927
  • · eBook - pdf - 9781915279934

About The Book

In this extraordinary memoir, Gwyneth Lewis, the inaugural National Poet of Wales, recounts her toxic upbringing at the hands of her controlling, coercive mother. It is a book that Gwyneth has been preparing to write all her life, in diaries that she’s kept since childhood. In these journals, she interrogates the emotionally abusive mother/daughter relationship, in great pain but determined to find a way through.

The result is a book that Gwyneth co-writes with her younger self, an unexpected and life-saving dialogue through time. Metaphors of haunting intensity help her confront what happened to her; quotations from art and literature help to guide and steady her. Nightshade Mother is a book about the power of art, language and, ultimately, about homecoming after a lifetime of exile from herself. It is a profoundly moving and beautiful work; questing, forgiving and loving in its approach.


This is an astonishing memoir. It is remarkable, the combination of unrelenting clarity and straightforwardness, and the subtlety of all the insidious and insistent terror (and rage) described. The book seems to me a triumph of tone and poise amidst so much disarray and confusion. It floats free of the by now all too familiar Sanity, Madness and the Family accounts of devastated childhoods. It’s utterly free of sentimentality and special pleading – and shows us something partly explained by plain and lucid and understatedly poetic description. It seems to me extraordinary that Gwyneth Lewis is more than able to write this unique version of the growth of the poet’s mind. We are all failures because we fail to cure our parents; this book shows the terrible impossibility of the founding task of everyone’s life.
Adam Phillips

What sort of parenting can make an adult, decades on, feel like ‘a trespasser in their own life’? In this unsparing memoir of a passionately controlling mother, who needs to keep a gifted child in her place, Gwyneth Lewis explores the nature of the damage done, the discovery of patchy but real vehicles of healing, the challenges of where and how to offer - or to postpone - forgiveness. All this is done with authority and (in the best sense) dispassion — not chill, not absent feeling, but clarity in and about feeling. It is a moving, difficult, and, ultimately, loving record, insisting on growing beyond both collusion and resentment.
Rowan Williams

This is an extraordinary book: an anatomy of an abusive relationship, harrowing but leavened by love, a deep belief in the power of words and the wisdom earned through decades of reflection. It is, in the end, a story of healing. Inspirational.
Tom Bullough

This book was dangerous to write and is troubling to read. In courageously undertaking to chronicle the severe damage done to her gifted mind by early and prolonged emotional abuse Gwyneth Lewis risked psychological collapse. But while refusing to settle for a consoling narrative of complete recovery she succeeds in negotiating a liberating truce with her deeply troubled past. And so this remarkable volume ends in cautious optimism with the rebirth of a person and of a writer.
M Wynn Thomas

How do we flourish when our early nurture is also an experience of profound harm? Compelling, radical and moving, Gwyneth Lewis’s extraordinary memoir is a revelatory journey back to the self she was never allowed to be. Documenting growing up speaking Welsh in the cultural heartlands of Welsh language renaissance, she finds in that Eden also a place of torture. Daughter of a ‘nightshade mother’, whose complex care unwittingly made open prisons of her childhood and adolescence, Gwyneth Lewis writes her way back to freedom and sanity through engagement with places of love and joy following a path that will resonate with, and inspire, many of us.
Alice Hiller


Prelude - ‘The Powers of Love Reversed’
Chapter 1 - Invalid
Chapter 2 - Mistaken Identities
Chapter 3 - Damnation
Chapter 4 - Witnesses
Chapter 5 - Top
Chapter 6 - Two Kinds of Elsewhere
Chapter 7 - Crisis
Chapter 8 - Remissions

About the Author(s)

Author(s): Gwyneth Lewis

All Gwyneth Lewis ever wanted to be was a writer. Brought up Welsh-speaking in Cardiff, she studied English and spent time in America. She was Wales’s first National Poet and composed the six-foot-high words on the front of the Wales Millennium Centre. Her other non-fiction books are Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book on Depression and Two in a Boat: A Marital Voyage. She has published nine books of poetry, the latest being Sparrow Tree.

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