Skinful: A Memoir of Addiction by Australian author, Robyn Flemming, reviewed by Gay Liddington.

This memoir grabbed me at the first line, ‘You are so f**king ugly’. The author’s masterful style entices the reader to become part of the nomad’s journey. You will meet characters who colour her world, and a sense of humour that is honest and revealing will delight.

Brought up in a household with an authoritarian father who dished out discipline that was ‘physical, harsh and unpredictable’ and a mother who lacked self-confidence, childhood trauma left an emotional void that she sought to fill with alcohol and other addictive substances and behaviours.

A freelance editor, Flemming lived in Hong Kong from 1986 until 1993. After she returned to Australia, she took up long-distance running and trekking, partly as a way to manage her drinking. 

She ran the Honolulu Marathon and walked the Kokoda Track in New Guinea and the Everest Base Camp route in Nepal. But, she says, ‘It wouldn’t matter how far I walked or how many races I entered or how fast I ran them, I couldn’t get away from the fact I had a problem with alcohol.’

In 2010, the 58-year-old left behind her life in Australia and reinvented herself as a self-employed global nomad. She had her last drink during a hurricane in New York City in 2011. 

The following year, as part of a challenge she set herself to replace a negative addiction with a positive one, she ran 12 half marathons in 12 months in nine countries. 

Skinful narrates Flemming’s addictions primarily to alcohol, unrequited love, and the shedding of destructive behaviours to find a home within herself. It lured me on a worldwide adventure, spiked with secrets, disappointments, and renewal. It was as though I was running the marathon of life in her shadow.

This memoir serves to remind us that it’s never too late to ask ourselves, ‘What life do I want to live?’, and to make a new path to a different future. 

Skinful is available through Rosetta Books, Maleny.

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