In this special exclusive extract from her controversial and emotionally searing new memoir, Leah Tusk explains how it’s feminism’s fault that her perfect marriage was destroyed by her freeloading husband’s completely unjustified hatred towards her.
Recently my husband and I separated, and over the course of a few weeks, the life we made fell apart into splinter-edged bits, like a self-assembly bookcase that collapses under the weight of several volumes of artfully constructed and very clever memoirs (such as How I Went To Italy Like One Of Those Romantic Poets So My Extreme Cleverness Could Find Full Expression, and I Know All About Motherhood Because I Read It In A Penguin Classic).
The new reality is, the bookshelf is broken. I cannot put any more books on it. So I must write a new book, which I can then sell, to buy new bookcases. My husband believes I have treated him monstrously. That is his story, and his whole world depends on it, because he is a psychologically feeble human who lacks my clever and artful view on the wreckage of our relationship (which I definitely didn’t cause, and has nothing to do with all the volumes of artful and clever memoirs I crammed on the shelves).
I hate stories, so I decide to write a sort of freeform bleat about the demise of my family. My husband says custody of the children should be split 50-50. “You can’t split a person 50-50,” I say, “and anyway, they’re not people, they’re things, and they belong to me.” I am shocked by this primal urge, because I have never come across an account of maternal possessiveness in any of the classic literature I’ve read. “Good point, me,” I think, and write it down in my special notebook for clever and artful observations. For some reason he hates me.
The children cry in the bath. They keep saying something beginning with “D–” and ending in “–addy”, but they are quite snotty so it’s hard to make out. “Shush children,” I say, “I’m trying to turn our family’s pain into a literary product that will have all the critics wanking, and also remind everyone that I am totally the aggrieved party in this relationship breakdown.” But they keep sniveling, so I close the door and bang harder on the keys of the Macbook that I bought with all the money I made while my husband was fannying about looking after the children like some kind of fucking woman.
“Call yourself a feminist?” he asks. I don’t reply because I don’t really know what the word means, but later I look it up in my Big Dictionary Of Nineteenth Century Opinions, and apparently a feminist is “some crowing witch who probably wears pantaloons, while treating her husband like a shitbird in a pinny”. I phone him up: “Yes, I am a feminist,” I say, “and that is why I refuse to pay you any maintenance even though you sacrificed your career to care for our children, which are now my private property.”
My solicitor says apparently I do have some financial obligations to this miserable fuck of a husband who just hung around at home doing all the work. It is very unfair when people make sacrifices for you, because it makes them hate you when you are incapable of love or gratitude. “I can’t give him money, I’m just a writer!” I say. What I mean is, “I’m just a woman!” My solicitor says, “I don’t think much of you as either to be honest, but the sooner you sort this out, the sooner I can get you out of my office and stop thinking about you and the tiresome bullshit about jigsaws-as-relationships you keep coming out with.”
Things are bad. I need a third party, someone outside the marriage, who can help me see a way through. I ring my agent. “It’s savable,” she says, “but only if you do some work. Break down the manuscript into two articles. One for the Guardian, about how terribly painful it is to be suddenly and surprisingly hated by that shitbird in a pinny you were living with, and how much you’ve learnt about yourself because of it. You keep the fee from that. One for the Telegraph, about how feminism made you wear pantaloons despite your primal needs as a mother. Your husband gets the money for that one. And a book, covering the whole business at tedious, self-justifying length. You’ll get a lot of money for that. Put it all in a trust fund to pay for the counselling when your children have nervous breakdowns inspired by the public carcass-stripping of your relationship with their father.”
“Yes,” I say, “because the old story must end before a new one can start.” “Look, don’t get too hung up on story, Leah,” says my agent. “Your solicitor says you need to get this out pretty fast to cover your expenses, so it’s probably best if you just sling a few vague complaints about your marriage together, compare it to your parents’ relationship, and end with an artfully clever figure of speech.” “Something about earth, ploughs and new shoots?” I say. “Yes, whatever, fine,” says my agent. “Just write the fucking thing.” So I do.