Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review: Ugly by Constance Briscoe


“I shall write my story down. So far I have always been a private person, so this is the first time my story is being told.”

UGLY is a true life story of a loveless childhood. Written in a raw form, the author- Constance Briscoe, tells in vivid details of how she was abused emotionally and physically, especially by her mother, Carmen.

What kind of mother is void of love for a child she carried in her womb for nine months? Carmen was always furious about Clare's (Constance was called Clare as a child) flaw of wetting the bed... and often accused her of doing it on purpose. We also read in the book how different efforts were made to help Clare (Constance) overcome it, such as a special alarm set to go off once she starts wetting the bed. But it did not work. 

However, we read about how she never wet the bed when sleeping-out (e.g. while at Miss K's). Thus, it can be deduce that the problem was psychological. When living in constant fear and hate, how won’t one become a chronic sufferer of nocturnal enuresis?

When not twisting at Clare’s  nipples or pinching her, Carmen was squeezing at her “minnie” and calling her names such as ugly. Once she cried out “Lord, sweet Lord, how come she so ugly. Ugly. Ugly. If I hadn’t given birth to her, sweet Lord, I would have sworn she was a fraud…”

Each chapter in the book reveals the different phases of the author’s horrific childhood, her struggles and little triumphs amidst depression.

The author’s story telling style is deep yet tender. While such emotions as anger is invoked in readers, Constance also chipped in humorous scenes to lighten the mood.

Paul Magrath, another reviewer, reminds us of Constance’s defiance and doggedness.  He writes: “When attacked by her stepfather Eastman, for example, she goes to the local Magistrates’ Court and takes out a summons, as a result of which he is bound over to keep the peace, on pain of imprisonment. He keeps his own peace after that, but signally fails to keep that of Carmen, who later beats Clare so severely that she collapses at school and refuses to go home. A teacher, Miss Korchinskye, herself a refugee (from the concentration camps), offers to take her in. Fate punishes “Miss K” abysmally for this act of humanity: she is horrifically injured in an accident. But her kindness offers Clare a lifeline out of the hell of her domestic environment."

The author finds light at the end of her tunnel: Another turning point comes with a school trip to the Crown Court. One of the barristers involved is Michael Mansfield, now a leading crime practitioner and campaigning, media-savvy silk. On hearing that Clare, a schoolgirl in her early teens, wants to be a barrister, he not only pays her the compliment of taking her seriously but even promises her a pupillage.

Despite every discouragement from home and school, Clare passes her A-levels and gets into Newcastle University. Her mother makes one last attempt to bar her way to the Bar: asked to countersign her daughter’s university grant application form, she simply tears it up. Clare has to postpone her entry for a year and work as a nurse to make her own way. In 1982 she graduates in law and in 1983 is called to the Bar. She writes to Mansfield asking when she can start her pupillage. He writes back: “Dear Constance, Come as soon as you like.” (Review and interview by Paul Magrath).


The book is simply remarkable. The author’s experience will inspire one to strive to become a better person, irrespective of the circumstances surrounding one’s childhood. It teaches resilience, willpower/determination and faith. Bullied and beaten by peers and mother, Constance tells us how she carried her heavy childhood cross and flaws so lightly through the pages of Ugly to become a successful barrister and part-time judge.

How did she pull through? She completes the story in her sequel “Beyond Ugly”.

I really enjoyed Ugly...shed some tears, but it was worth reading! Now looking forward to reading "Beyond Ugly." Please go get your copy and share your thoughts about the book!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jennifer du think it sells in HK?

Jennifer Ehidiamen said...

I think you could order a copy via Amazon... and it'll get shipped to you. BUT some local bookstore in HK that sell fiction by int'l authors might have copies too! http://www.amazon.com/Ugly/dp/0340994657/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292139447&sr=1-1

Anonymous said...

I read this book and was amazed @ how a mother cld behave to her blood child. But I was awed by Constance and her tenacity. A must read!

Chrissy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chrissy said...

Just read this book and it broke my heart...how could a mother treat her own flesh and blood so?...I cry for the lost innocence of clare the child and how she must have struggled to understand why?...I think her mother was a sadist...or was schizophrenic....whatever she was I would do to her what she did to Clare if I could get my hands on her...I admire Clare so much for triumphing over her so sad and horrific childhood....many weaker characters would have turned to drugs or run away and been picked up by a pimp...I can also relate to Clare very well....I cannot say too much...but it hits home...

Harry Holmes said...

this book is a complete fake 'pain porn'about as honest as James Fey it will all come out in the wash