I first came across Scott Manley Hadley when I read his poetry collection, Bad Boy Poet. This intrigued me so I started to follow his blog, Triumph of the Now, where he posts his thoughts on books alongside how he is feeling. There is an honesty in his writing that can be shocking at times but is mostly refreshing given how caged most writers – and others – remain about what would be considered their private life.
The Pleasure of Regret is a memoir written in a mix of poetry and prose. It opens with a poem that encapsulates how certain adults try to pass on what they consider wisdom to their children as they reach adulthood – an endeavour that is unlikely to achieve the intended result.
“I think this man
Was not a man
Used to ignoring himself
The advice giver is the father of a valued friend. Manley Hadley has a challenging relationship with his own parents who he grew to despise while attending grammar school, for reasons explained. He writes of the bullying endured at this place, and then the friends he made in sixth form. This section captures the magic of a period in life when everything seems possible – the intensity of friendships made in late teens.
“Nudity and poetry and music and liquor. Cigarettes and dinner jackets and-
I miss it.
I miss it most because I know it, and nothing like it, can ever happen again.”
“It felt magical because it felt like it would never end. It felt magical because I thought life would keep getting better.
The author goes to university – an establishment chosen for potential fun rather than academic rigour. Following graduation, he enters a toxic relationship with an older woman that will last a decade. The woman is wealthy and destructive – self-centred and manipulative. This period in Manley Hadley’s life is shaped by substance abuse and depression.
“When I began learning Spanish,
“I already speak Spanish.”
“How is that going to help me?”
my favourite lines
are the lines of poems
her favourite lines
The breakdown of the relationship is followed by a severe mental health breakdown. As the author writes, not all wounds heal.
There follow sections in which Manley Hadley writes about his parents, both now suffering chronic health conditions that will likely bring forward their deaths. He acknowledges that they are not bad people, but that they didn’t give him what he needed from parents. Again, there is a rare honesty – few would openly admit to such feelings despite their omnipresence.
Footnotes in the book occasionally send the reader to the author’s earlier blog posts. I made sure to read these entries as they offer further understanding of how Manley Hadley’s life has been shaped.
Another thread explored is academia – a career choice considered when the author was trying to claw his way out of impending mental breakdown. The veneer is stripped from the hallowed spires, revealing a truth about how academics exist within their bubbles, revered by peers and detached from those unlike them.
“The academics, the readers, the thinkers… some professional, some – like me – amateur, were all linked by class and intellectual interest.”
The memoir closes with a timeline and then a diagnosis for the disorder the author suffers. While this leads to effective treatment it also eats into how he regards himself – defined, predictable, medically “wrong”.
How much truth can any memoir contain? The author is a poet and writes with laconic intensity. He shares shocking details yet leaves many blank spaces. He longs for love and seeks it in sex that leaves him empty. He harbours regrets and struggles to live with what he is.
This is poignant, powerful writing that offers insights both dark and exquisite. It is intoxicating and searching. A recommended read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.