Sam Twyford-Moore, former director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, has written a weird, garrulous, scattergram of a book about mania and the experience of life at what Saul Bellow once called the speed of intensest thought.
So what is The Rapids? A memoir about the experience of mental illness or an investigation into the cultural history of mania? A guidebook for fellow travellers on how to navigate the white-water tumult or a celebration of extremes? There are sombre reflections on what it means to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, commentaries on infamous public meltdowns and ambiguous, rather coy accounts of the author’s own manic episodes. There’s an erratic tour d’horizon of medical literature, plus film reviews, literary essays and lots and lots of excited reflections on the attractions of being excessive and impulsive and overfilled with euphoria.
Yes, The Rapids moves at speed, jagging from subject to subject with an enthusiasm that only occasionally seems forced. The style is punchy and fluent enough and Twyford-Moore has interesting things to say about the link between creativity and mania, but it’s odd how sententious this book sometimes feels despite its hustle and haste.
It’s as though moral superiority, that old critical frailty, were Twyford-Moore’s way of holding the myriad incoherencies of his ambitious project together. He criticises the use of mental illness as a metaphor. He lectures on the ethical responsibilities of those who encounter manic depressives. He decries the public appetite for gossip about celebrity crack-ups. He scolds the celebrities themselves for not becoming advocates for mental health services. And he dismisses those who are advocates for not being better advocates.
It can be galling because Twyford-Moore himself seems reluctant to accept personal responsibility for his actions. “Some events have been ever so slightly fictionalised,” he writes in a characteristic last word that seems to sum up all that preceded it. “If this has been overdone, or uncalled for, I blame the medication I’m on, and its effects on memory and decorum, as well as the mania itself, of course.” Wasn’t it Sartre who said that once thrown into the world, we’re responsible for everything we do? In any case, with its dashing collage-like presentation of disconnected paragraphs inspired by the experimental nonfiction of American writers such as Wayne Koestenbaum and Maggie Nelson, The Rapids is bound to make an impression. JR
NewSouth, 288pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 11, 2018 as "Sam Twyford-Moore, The Rapids ". Subscribe here.