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Unreliable Truth Paperback – May, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If, as Murdock says, we use memory to create our identities, then at last there's an explanation for why members of a single family will remember in radically different ways an event that affected them all. For just as memory shapes identity, says Murdock, identity, once formed, shapes how we remember things: "If the image of the event we have participated in does not match the image of the self we have carefully constructed, then we rarely remember the facts of the event at all." Yet according to the author, each memory, no matter how discrete, has a structure similar to that of myth; beneath each memory is a psychological archetype, such as that of the journey. So while it's possible for a memoir to be narcissistic, Murdock claims, most of them transcend petty egotism; a book like Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes "stirs our collective memory and inspires our collective compassion." In trying to describe the writer's relation to his or her unconscious, Murdock counters the shadowiness of her subject by referring to such well-known memoirists as McCourt, John Bayley, Isabel Allende, Mary Karr and J.M. Coetzee, as well as lesser-known authors. Part One of this study outlines Murdock's general ideas about memory and identity interspersed with an often painful-to-read account of the author's relationship with an angry, controlling mother. Part Two is essentially a textbook, complete with exercises designed for those interested in organizing their experiences as best they can and, given memory's unreliability, making as much sense as possible of them.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Press (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580050832
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580050838
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Maureen Murdock is the best-selling author of The Heroine's Journey: Woman's Quest for Wholeness, a ground-breaking work which revealed a broader understanding of the female psyche on both a personal and cultural level and was Murdock's response to Joseph Campbell's A Hero with a Thousand Faces. When Murdock showed Campbell her book, he said, "Women don't need to make the journey." Murdock's readers around the world have shown that he's wrong! A Jungian psychotherapist and creative writing teacher, Murdock is also the author of Fathers Daughters: Breaking the Ties that Bind, The Heroine's Journey Workbook, Spinning Inward: Using Guided Imagery with Children, and Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory, a seminal work about memoir and what's involved in writing a memoir. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and she lectures internationally. Follow her blog, Hooked on Hope, on

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is a thoughtful introduction to memoir writing as a means to explore memory. The book is divided into 2 parts. In the first part, Murdoch presents an extended example of memory exploration through memoir as she describes her relationship with her mother up to the time of her mother's death from Alzheimer's. In this section, not only does she present her own memoirs, but she also analyzes the process of recollection and writing. In the second part of the book, Murdoch offers advice about writing memoirs. She includes a few suggested exercises in this section. The book includes a glossary of terms and a bibliography.

I found the book extremely accessible yet academic in tone at the same time. In writing about memoirs, she draws examples from many published memoirs, including those by such authors as Frank McCourt, Amy Tan, and Ruth Riechl. Rather than being didactic, she encourages contemplation and experimentation. She draws a clear distinction between autobiographical and memoir writing, noting that the genre of autobiography is "a recounting of linear events from birth to death", but that of memoir, "a selected aspect of a life." She provides very useful advice about how to choose stories with universal themes and fill them with sensory details. The book is geared towards assisting those who would like to engage in the writing of memoirs as a process of self-discovery or spiritual search.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Roman Holliday on February 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
I've read many books about writing memoir as well as many memoirs. This book combines some of the best of both. Teasing out the distinction between remembered "facts" and emotional truth, Murdock uses her skills as a therapist, writer, and teacher to weave together a very valuable, to me as a memoirist, volume.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K. Wojcik on January 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
Murdock is fabulous as she winds us through numerous perspectives of the art of memoir, the unstableness of memory and her own personal journey. Filled with references from other great authors, Murdock challenges the reader's thinking. This book provides great insight to any would be memoir writers. The first section deals with memory and asks us 'what is truth?'. Truth according to who's viewpoint and, if our viewpoints on the same situation are different, does it make our view any less or more truthful? Murdock spins the reader into her story of her mother's illness as a way of showing us how memoir works. Then in the 2nd portion of the book, she gives us more of a step-by-step journey to memoir writing.
I found this book fascinating, well written and highly informative.
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Format: Paperback
Murdoch embeds her description of memoir as a genre into the context of the women's movement in the US and into a discussion of the connections between memory, writing, and identity. Her focus on the work and history of women is particularly useful, as is her understanding of the psychological function of the writing process. ("If we never learn our mothers’ memories and their stories, we are helpless to make the future—for ourselves and our daughters. In the silencing of our mothers’ lives and our own, we lose identity.")

Her prose is straightforward and accessible and her short descriptions of published books point readers to a wide variety of example memoirs they might wish to explore. Her writing instructions at the end of the book are geared towards beginners, encouraging them to engage in first exploits and then providing suggestions for how to deepen the work. There are plenty of books out there that provide more depth in writing instruction, but her weaving of personal anecdote, excerpts from the literature, and reflections on the writing process make for an easy and interesting read.
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