Review: Casting Off by Elspeth Sandys

This review was first published in Landfall Review Online on 1 March 2018.

Elspeth Sandys has had many names. Born Frances Hilton James in 1948, she became Elspeth Sandilands Somerville on the occasion of her adoption into the prominent Dunedin Somerville clan at the age of nine months. The circumstances of her birth and adoption, and their impact on her childhood, were the subject of the first volume of her memoir, What Lies Beneath, published in 2014. 

The second volume, Casting Off, starts with another name change. With her first marriage in late 1960, Elspeth inexplicably took on not only her husband’s surname, but a new first name as well – Susan. ‘Till recently,’ she writes, ‘I believed this new Christian name was given to me by my young sisters-in-law, Elspeth being too much of a mouthful, but they have assured me they had nothing to do with it. So the question of who bestowed the name on me, and why, remains unanswered. As does the question of why I agreed to it …’

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The Whole Intimate Mess

In June 2017 I published a short memoir about my experience in Parliament, becoming a mother, and then stepping down when it became too hard to combine my care responsibilities with my career. After leaving Parliament, I set myself a challenge to only read books by women for a year (which turned into two), and this was the starting point for this book.

I’m really excited to share it, thanks to the lovely team at Bridget Williams Books who encouraged me to write it and released it as part of their Texts series of short books by New Zealand writers. You can find out more and order it here.