Bits of Me are Falling Apart

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 2008, 12:00am

Bits of Me are Falling Apart

by William Leith

Bloomsbury, HK$159

William Leith's consciousness of the world - a sublime alignment of brilliantly bold, broad strokes - has been hewn by 25 years of highbrow journalism, during which the British author mused on subjects as disparate as English obituary writers and Palestinian tensions.

Always eloquent, his prose could also be unforgettable. He first ventured into the literary arena with his memoir, The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict (2005), regarded as one of the finest meditations on gluttony ever written. The compensatory nature of over-consumption remains one of the great themes of Leith's life and also informs his new book, Bits of Me Are Falling Apart: Dark Thoughts From the Middle Years, a memoir of separation.

'I wake up, middle-aged and cranky, on an old mattress,' he begins, 47 at the time of writing the book. 'Half of my life has gone. I piece the facts together. I'm on an old mattress because I'm sleeping in my office ... I always sleep in my office because my office is my home. My office is my home because my relationship has broken up.'

Dumped by the mother of his young son, Leith is left reeling from remembrance to regret, maddened by the 'fatal' hope that his former beloved - for whom he expresses nothing but the most tender longing - will take him back. The honesty with which he documents his failings is almost Victorian in its elegance. At no point does Leith mine the memory of his old relationship for sensationalistic fizz: he is a writer and a gentleman. He does not blame; instead, there is courageous acknowledgement of (inadvertent) wrongdoing, and pleas for recognition of his obeisance. His story is heart-rending.

'The beginning was good,' he writes, 'and the bit after the beginning was good, everything was fine for a year, and then I ran out of money, and then she knew something about me she hadn't known before ... and I had to explain the concept of no money, no money at all and no access to money, I had to explain the concept of having no money at the age of 44, and she asked me why I had no money and I shook my head ... It was a good question.'

Leith is the antithesis of the metrosexual and the alpha male. He attributes no religious significance to high income. Perfection is of no interest. He has no desire to dominate either men or women, and despite a culturally chiselled emotional reserve, loves as ardently as any of the Lake poets. All Leith wants is to be with his little boy and the mother of his little boy, and Bits is his love letter to both of them, and also his apologia.

A beautiful prose stylist and an incorruptible man of the heart, Leith has written what may well turn out to be the bible for all separated fathers, women who wonder what their former partners experience and adults who as children were caught in the crossfire.