Never Let Me Down by Susan J. Miller
Like Being Killed by Ellen Miller
Some years ago, I bought two books at the same time, from a charity shop. I had never heard of either of them; I only realised when I got them home that the two writers shared the same surname.
I have always been keen on books about drugs. This is maybe not a cool thing to admit, suggesting a sort of on-going schoolgirl fascination with the subject. You know, like the sort of girls who think Pete Doherty is cool. Oh, well. It’s a bit like when my friend Daniel instantly batted away my suggestion that he would enjoy The Virgin Suicides with ‘oh no, I only read novels by people who are already dead’.
Still, it started with the classics, from Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jnr (still my favourite) to Bret Easton Ellis, and I could still read that sort of thing all day long. Same goes on film – if I’m honest, I still adore the grim voyeurism of The Panic in Needle Park and Christiane F.
So, that was the other thing that these two books had in common. Plus the fact that they both turned out to be really, really good and I would reread both in years to come.
Never Let Me Down by Susan J. Miller is a memoir by the writer-daughter of a heroin-addicted jazz musician in Brooklyn. She only found this out in later years – when her dad informed her in shockingly nonchalant I-thought-you-knew style – and suddenly the everyday strangeness and darkness of her childhood made sense. Her father was the sort of character I find fascinating – a window dresser by trade and jazz obsessive, he was friends with Charlie Parker and would spend days locked in the flat with his jazzy drug buddies. Growing up for the writer became darker and darker, but this is not a misery memoir – it’s far too interesting and well-written for that.
Like Being Killed by Ellen Miller is also a book about heroin, but that’s about all the two have in common. Billed on the cover as being a novel about ‘two girls, one drug and the ultimate flat-share nightmare’, alongside a grainy photo of a woman slumped against a wall in only tights and a bra that I liked the look of. It’s a grim and kind of awful read, but there is something so compelling about the writing that I would read it multiple times. Most of these kind of books end up being a bit tame and disappointing, but this was the opposite – genuinely shocking but brilliant. The main character, Ilyana, is self-destructive, drawn to Class As and abusive relationships, but with an intelligence that means she is depressingly self-aware about where it will all end. When her advertisement for a flatmate is answered by the kind and open-to-a-fault Susannah, the flashback structure of the book means that you are horribly aware of where this story might be going.