Book Review: ‘Shy: A Memoir’ by Sian Prior

Sian Prior’s Shy: A Memoir explores a lifelong struggle with crippling shyness. A few years ago, after panicking and then fleeing from a birthday party Prior decided to set about finding out what it meant to be shy.

But with the word shy there’s no authority, no control, It’s a blushing, hunching word; a nervous, knock-kneed, wallflower word. A word for children, not grown-ups, because surely grown-ups grow out of shyness. Don’t they?”

Mingling personal accounts with research, Prior sets out to uncover what it means to be shy by putting herself at the centre of the experiment. Perhaps an unorthodox approach to dealing with her shyness, Prior candidly recounts periods of intense insecurity and anxiety.

Sian Prior’s latest book “Shy: A Memoir” published by Text Publishing…

Rearing its head throughout the book is Prior’s interaction with mirrors. The book starts with her removing a mirror from the bedroom she shared with her ex-partner. This battle she has with mirrors, often removing them, is drawn not from the fear of what the mirror reflects but for the fantasy it creates.

From now on, whenever I left the privacy of my room, I would have to be myself, not who I was trying to present myself to be. That was my theory, anyway”

Sian Prior is perhaps best known for her career in journalism. She has worked as a writer, broadcaster, singer and teacher, all of which would make you think that she would have no problem socially. However, Prior takes the opportunity in Shy to admit a necessity to adopt a professional persona to cope with social interactions, aptly dubbed ‘Professional Sian’.

Shy: A Memoir is a dynamic read. There are a variety of different chapters, ranging from archetypal memoir accounts of the past and present to interviews between herself and her mother. This assortment of form makes Shy easy to read, a book that rolls and moves and draws you along for the ride.

This in some way reflects the dynamic tension of our public and private lives. But this is not an either/or moment. Prior reflects upon the battle between who she wants to be and who she wants to appear to be. This appears for Prior in two opposing forces, one desiring intimacy and transparency and the other distance and uncertainty,

I want to be alone

I crave company

I need solitude

I hate being by myself’

Again the mirror appears through out this. On one hand Prior rejects the mirror as reflecting an illusion, an unreality and on the other, a safety net, and a reflection built to create security.

“I needed the mirror to compose my features, set my expression. Straighten the mask. I had to see myself as others were about to see me – or as I wished them to see me”

In the end, Sian Prior has chosen to face the most direct and penetrating mirror of them all, the memoir. In doing so she has looked at herself from the inside, and then shared what she found with the rest of us.

* * *

Publisher: Text Publishing
Number of pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 28 May 2014
ISBN: 9781922182272

Note: The writer of this review received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Jared Catchpoole

Jared Catchpoole is a young writer based in Melbourne. He spends his time reading and writing and working on short stories, essays and his first novel which he hopes to finish one day. He has finished a creative writing certificate and is currently completing a Bachelor of Journalism.

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