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Original Sins by Matt Rowland Hill Review – Convincing Misery Memoir | Autobiography and memoirs

Nsomething about Original Sins, Matt Rowland Hill’s memoirs and first book, should work. Or rather, it should work, but in such a smooth-grooved, not-surprising, seen-before-way that it would not arouse much excitement. Stuffed here is every trope of the memoir boom from the last 15 years. First comes the story of middle-class drug addiction, as Hill’s promising young life is reduced to waiting in scary city parks for a boy in a hoodie to deliver an evil little package. Then there is the oppressive evangelical upbringing – Hill is the son of a Welsh Baptist preacher and his equally zealous wife, whose idea of ​​fun is to condemn Darwin and shout at each other in the car. And then there’s the fish-out-of-water angle, when Hill receives a scholarship from his state to a famous school (never named, but easily retrieved online, and it really is a really famous one, with penguin suits, fagging and Latin preparations). And finally, there is the title, Original Sins, which is hardly original.

And yet, despite all the deja vu, this book is brilliant. The scripture shimmers from the side, so that the night sweats become sweatier, the bible things more granular and the class angle more difficult than anything you have read before. Put them all together, add a touch of humor and cutting openness, and you have a driving book – and an informative one too. Depending on where your knowledge gaps are, you will either learn to inject yourself with Class A medications or be able to reach for Titus 2 verses 4 and 5 whenever you need a reason to snap off the car radio.

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What saves Original Sins from generic knowledge is that in its paradoxical heart lies a certain ordinary story of everyday family dysfunction. There is no abuse in the Hill family, no violence and no cruelty apart from the painful fact that the parents really do not tolerate each other. While Rev Hill gives charismatic sermons every Sunday on the theme of love and forgiveness, at home he shouts to his wife to fuck before locking himself in the study with the cigarettes he claims to never smoke and a secret code habit.

Mrs Hill, meanwhile, is permanently angry about something (exactly what is never made clear), which began in the valleys of South Wales, but which has received extra layers of resentment as her unearthly but upward mobile family moves from Swansea to Leighton Buzzard and then, of all places, Nazareth. Her only consolation now is to come up with ingenious justifications for the idea that Jesus actually transformed the water into non-alcoholic wine.

No wonder each of the four Hill children retires to a quiet, joyless place. By the end of the book, none of them will go to church. Sad of all is Jonathan, Hill’s younger brother, who follows in his footsteps to the famous school, comes out as gay and is encouraged by his parents to go to a conversion camp. Jonathan sharply calls it “camp” and wonders if it might actually be a good way to meet boys.

One of the most astringent aspects of Original Sins is the Rowland Hills’ willingness to be clear about the banalities of improvement. When attending an Narcotics Anonymous meeting in a London church, he gets angry at hearing nostrum “one day at a time” repeated and nauseating. “How else did they think you were expected to stay clean for a long time? Everything at once? Do you work backwards from the end? »

Similarly, in group therapy, again held in a recycled chapel, Hill tries hard not to get over all the smart alec when counselors spray cardboard on drug addicts who have a wounded inner child (he has read Middlemarch, twice, for heaven’s sake – they can surely do better?). Still, in a devastating afterword written as his memoirs went to press, Hill reveals how all the mushroom nostrils of the recovery business prove to be pervasive, at least in his case. Originality, it turns out, is greatly overestimated.

Original Sins: A Memoir by Matt Rowland Hill is published by Penguin (£ 16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery costs may apply.

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