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Review: Tracey Emin – My Life in a Column

It was Sports Day on Thursday and the whole school where I work went down to the Sports Park all day.

I got sun burnt.  I forgot to put sun cream on my back.  So now I have a nice pale face and arms, and a back with a cross on it, and a burnt neck.

After a day in the sun, I went home and slept, before being woken up by my ex-estate agent (the one I sacked), who wanted to know whether I was still interested in selling my old house.  If I’d been more alert, I would have recognised their number and ignored them.

I decided at that point, the best thing would be to visit the cocktail bar next door and try their evening’s special.  It was an Aqua Velvet, and very nice it was too.  If I could live off eggs, dhal and cocktails, I would be perfectly happy.  Perhaps it would be possible, with a few vegetables thrown in.

Today I am feeling more awake, so thought I would try the first of my new style book reviews.  Since I have got rid of my car, I’ve had an awful lot of time to read, and lots to talk about.  I had the idea of limiting my words, just in order to get the gist of the book over, so that my posts became more of a record book of thoughts.  At first, I thought I might go all 99-word Flash Fiction, but it wasn’t quite possible with my first review, so for the moment, the limit’s 300 words.

So here we go:

Tracey Emin – My Life in a Column

Tracey Emin is a British artist, best known for her unmade bed installation, as exhibited by Charles Saatchi in his controversial Sensation exhibition.

She’s also known for getting drunk a lot, but I don’t see why that’s a big deal – Malcolm Lowry died in a cottage in the village where I used to live, and no-one complains about his drinking, I suspect because he was male and posh.

In this collection of weekly columns that she wrote for the Independent shows, Tracey writes a lot about her struggle not to get drunk 🙂 But also about her need to work, born of the fear of never being good enough.

She’s hilarious! Coming home after a delayed plane journey, she describes herself as looking like “a small potato, that’s been kicked about a bit,” and there are lots of wry observations of the artistic world and lifestyle.

Also poignant. There’s a moment where one of her older friends looks back on her single parenthood and asks, “What have I done so wrong? Why am I so alone?”

Which gets Tracey thinking about the anguish that her abortions caused her, after which she concludes, “This is for my friend: don’t feel sad, you were brave to have your children alone, much braver than I could ever be, and the legacy that you give to the world is a wonderful independence. I love you, and that means you’re never alone. And don’t forget – you have a great sense of humour.”

4/5 stars Another one of those books where you don’t skip anything, but enjoy the whole ride.



  1. I never really know what to make of Tracy Emin. My natural instinct is to shy away. I don’t understand her ‘art’ – sorry about the inverted commas but I struggle. As a person she is fascinating but I am wary of celebrity status and I can never understand why the Beckhams made it big. A slightly above average football player who can barely mumble a coherent sentence and a girl who sang badly. As George Best was famously asked: where did it all go wrong? (Answer: I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.)

    • Victoria Beckham, nothing special, but David Beckham was a really hard worker, and I don’t mind if someone is rewarded for that – unlike a lot of celebrity status where people are rewarded just for appearing idiots on TV, which really is depressing. Likewise Tracy Emin – her column reveals that she is obsessed with her art and with the art of others, is always thinking about art and planning what she is going to make next. She’s very articulate about the processes, which suits someone like me, as I am more verbal than visual. I find exactly the same about more conventional paintings – pop Art, old Masters, fuzzy pictures of landscapes etc etc. I have to understand the verbals behind it before I can get a feeling for the art.
      Artists I have discussed this with feel much less need for the verbal.

  2. I love the idea of Flash Reviews Denise – a challenge for you, I know, but much better for the reader to get the main points quickly! I’m interested in this book, thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    I went to see an Emin exhibition some time ago and was struck by the rawness of it and how the struggles she had growing up were patently on show. I think she is a very brave artist who has now come of age and is at last appearing to be content in her own skin. She fascinates me!

    • I’ve not seen an exhibition but I’d agree that her struggles growing up are one of the major themes of her writing. Even down to feeling out of place at art college, and not being able to afford the better ranges of oil paints, and her gratitude to the person who gave up their time to help her with the basics that she hadn’t been taught previously. I think she really is brave, because it is important to her that the art matters to her and means something, and that goes against what a lot of society says is OK. I’d compare it with Jackson Pollock who just went completely mad with the canvases, but he really *believed* in that process. Now he is someone I can’t understand or get on with, but each to their own.

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