Your Story, My Story

Written by Connie Palmen
Review by Fiona Alison

With the outcome known from the start, it’s the path we follow to get there that makes this beautifully written ode to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath so engrossing and emotional: a love story of euphoric joy and acute sorrow. Filled with literary references and written like a daily journal, its private intimacy is like being inside Hughes’s head, with all notion of a story, written and translated by strangers, forgotten.

Ted meets Sylvia in 1956, both writers on the path to fame, a reserved Englishman and a vivacious American. He describes her addictive personality, their noisy athletic sex, their fatal attraction—like Cathy and Heathcliff, two halves of one soul. He writes of her insane jealousy, her pathological neediness, her fear of abandonment, her invented stories of his infidelities, her flamboyance, her yearning for recognition, whereas he wants to conceal himself quietly in the English countryside with her, and write.

The use of the word ‘bride’ seems carefully chosen here, as though using it throughout the journal allows Ted to step back over the threshold at any moment, to start the story over, to correct what’s gone wrong. In the final days, when mired in the lies, the distortions, the misrepresentations, the turncoat friends, a private life thrown open to public scrutiny and judgement, and the martyrdom of his brilliant muse, he speaks of his ‘wife’ as though enfolding her in a soft and safe cocoon as he seeks his own redemption. Writing exclusively from a one-sided viewpoint, while allowing the reader to decide for themselves where the truth lies, presents a difficult literary challenge, but Palmen uses discretion and respect. At no point did I doubt the enduring devotion Ted Hughes had for his wife until the end of his life. Readers who remember Plath’s suicide may be challenged to rethink the media hype.