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Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Songs of 3 Islands:A Memoir" by Millicent Monks~Madness Amongst the Wealthy


Songs of three islands is a stunning memoir about the astounding Carnegie family's struggle with mental illness combined with a beautifully evoked meditation on motherhood and madness.

In describing five generations of mental instability in the female line of her family Millicent Monks attempts to bring mental illness out of the shadows and comfort those who are suffering from thoughts and feelings they don’t always understand. In her own words “People, they say, are divided into two kinds: those who have known inescapable sorrow and those who have not. Because sorrow cannot be changed, one’s lifestyle and feelings must be changed to accommodate it.” This heartfelt account highlights the struggle and frustration felt as you watch those you love being destroyed by mental illness. It's easy to presume that having riches beyond your wildest dreams automatically means you have it all, but being blighted by mental illness is something many families, rich and poor alike, struggle to come to terms with.

This memoir will not only leave the reader feeling positive and enlightened, but filled with enormous admiration for and gratitude towards Millicent Monks for sharing this unique story about her legendary family. This frank account highlights her own personal struggle and determination to survive against many odds.


Published by:  Prospecta Press
Pages:  225  with Appendix
Genre:  Memoir
Author:  Millicent Monk
Find out more:  http://www.songsofthreeislands.com


Born into the legendary Carnegie family, in which serious mental illness has affected four generations of women, Millicent Monks' early childhood was lonely and difficult. After a career in music, she married and spent a year in Cambridge, where her husband was a Fiske scholar at the university. They have two children and mental illness in the family has continued to play a prominent and overwhelming part in her life. Her search for answers led her to Jungian analysis, meditation and the sutras, which have helped her find a delicate peace amid the devastating mental illness in the Carnegie family.


I have very mixed feelings about this book, will tell you right up front.  I want to commend Ms Monks on her attempts at getting the word out that mental illness strikes people at all echelons in life, but I felt that the book was shallow at best.  There you have it...my humble opinion.

This memoir seemed very surface with not much meat to grab hold of about the people themselves.  While we are given specific names of the rich and famous in her family, Millicent Monks does not give insight into them as people.  We are told only small vignettes about them to place them in the family context, but no specific accounts that would anchor them as being mentally ill are divulged.  Only statements such as that her grandmother would stay in her room sometimes for days and that she eventually spent time at McLean Hospital in Boston and it wasn't spoken about.  There are no real tells in the account.

Further, her descriptions of her mentally ill mother's life are not complete either.  We have a hint that she is schizophrenic at some point, but other than Ms Monks's descriptions of her mother not getting along with the help, neglecting her, being obsessive about non-pasteurized milk, and crawling on  her hands and knees after her sister at one point, we really have nothing to hang our hats on about her diagnosis.  Conversations and/or attempts to show us her real life are truly missing.

Finally,  when we are introduced to her daughter, I felt particularly confused.  We get a very thinly layered account of a child who is difficult to handle "sometimes" at school and home...an angry child.  A child who was sent away to school in Switzerland and found disturbed friends who went to McLean's Hospital, so she wanted to go as well...   Very strange.  I found this whole episode of the family circle barely understandable.  I also find the "new" diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder suspect given the little we are told.

Sadly, I also feel that the author has failed to recognize her own personal mental illness caused by the impact of her childhood and heredity.  While she's struggled more than any I've ever heard of to overcome it, it rings more loudly than any of the others she's seeking to explain.  For that I can only applaud her strength and stamina and heart.  This book is a living testament to herself and her survival.

It seems to me that Ms Monks wanted to let the cat out of the bag by letting people know why she and her family have been so odd over the years, so she wrote this book.  I think it's more a family memoir than anything, however, and that you had to BE THERE to fill in the blanks.  I feel that much of the truth is still hanging in the closet, that we may never know the things that set the whole off and made it as it was...  I don't believe we are told the whole story in this book.

Millicent Monks seems to feel she's done something that might help others with mentally ill children in writing this book.  I'm afraid I don't see that at all, sadly.  What I saw in the reading was a woman trying to justify her own life...trying still to find herself...

As a historical piece that gives small vignettes into the Carnegie family and some of the mental oddness you'll find there, it is an interesting book.  As a memoir that scratches no more than the middle-ground, and leaves out the lower and upper stories of the house... it's a frustration.  To tell the truth, it made me angry.  I had this feeling we were given the "under the tablecloth" view.

I understand from my own research that Monks's daughter "Cassandra" will be following up with a memoir of her own.  She claims her mother took great pieces of her journal and mixed them up to suit her writing in the book.  This sort of mother/daughter conflict is at least something Millicent Monks speaks of.  I wish them both well on their continued journey.

3 stars                            Deborah/TheBookishDame


Daniel Efosa Uyi

hey nice post meh, You are one of the best writers I've seen of recent. I love your style of blogging here. this post reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: How To Find Success With Dating Girls .
keep up the good work friend. I will be back to read more of your posts.



Thank you, Daniel. I appreciate the compliment. :]

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