E. B. Howell’s As Much as I Care to Remember is a frank portrayal of living with bipolar disorder. Howell’s honest dedication to raising awareness about bipolar disorder delivers an empathetic and authentic narrative about Liddy, a woman battling the world around her and the multiple narratives spun by her episodes of mania.
As Much as I Care to Remember immediately establishes itself as raw and set on rebelling against the portrait of bipolar disorder purported by mainstream media and popular culture (an issue Liddy addresses in the final chapter, citing it as the reason behind sharing her experience with the reader). Thus, despite being fictitious, Howell constructs Liddy’s experience as lived experiences. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give this novel is the way it reads as a non-fiction memoir.
Subsequently, even when Liddy reaches extreme highs created by the mania associated with bipolar disorder, none of the episodes or small glimpses into Liddy’s psyche are gratuitous. Nor does Howell romanticise Liddy’s experience as we live it alongside her. This is because Howell captures the vulnerable responses of both Liddy and the family and friends around her. Liddy is a woman with a disorder she tries to manage every single day, but first and foremost she is a woman with a career and a husband. Similarly, her mother Hazel is the pharmacist, wife to Liddy’s father Jimmy (with whom the story begins as Jimmy also lives with bipolar disorder) and a mother, before she is the mother trying to cope with Liddy’s episodes.
This is where Howell’s authenticity derives from. It derives from her ability to balance bipolar disorder being central to Liddy’s narrative but also being inconsequential at times. Liddy is not defined by her disorder and never should be – something she struggles with during her third episode.
Howell’s structural craft is also admirable. Never once, although the timeline is not completely linear, did the novel feel haphazard or roughly pieced together. Howell has superbly written a story as if Liddy were there, right beside you, telling you. Consequently, her childhood memories are not revealed all at once, she goes on tangents and she refers to all three of her episodes even though we learn the most about her third one.
Liddy’s is a life lived and still to be lived. The end is not the end; Liddy does not deny the possibility of a fourth episode, in fact she knows it is on the horizon, but her honesty leaves the reader with hope Liddy will be okay. Howell dispels any preconceptions a reader might have about bipolar disorder to tell an incredibly human story which one may assume is alien to them when, in truth, it is not.