In the year 2000, I watched a film called Matilda for the first time. I was eight years old and a bit of a loner/loser at school who preferred to spend her lunchtimes in the library reading. I’d read a few Roald Dahl books but Matilda hadn’t crossed my path yet in its original novel form; what instead happened was, on a trip to Blockbuster, I picked up a VHS copy of a movie about a young girl who loves books and discovers she has extraordinary powers.
The plot is more layered than that, but the movie stayed with me a long time after I watched it. I quickly pursued the novel, which I fell in love with too, but Mara Wilson’s portrayal of the titular character was what I’d fallen in love with. She wasn’t just cute – though she was six-and-a-half in the film, she was older than me in real life and I had trouble viewing my peers as ‘cute’ – I thought she was an actor with pathos and charm. When the internet became a thing a few years later, I looked her up, keen to see what other films she’d been in – and realised, broken-hearted, that she’d stopped acting in films in the early 2000s.
About a decade passed, and I became a fan of Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis’s Nostalgia Chick – and, incredibly, there she was. Mara Wilson, grown up, as frank and as witty as I remembered her in her films I loved so much as a child. I became a fan of her blog, followed her on Twitter, and amazingly heard her voice in Welcome To Night Vale by pure coincidence.
So when I heard she was releasing a memoir, I of course couldn’t wait.
I listened to Where Am I Now? on Audible for two reasons – the first, is that Mara Wilson is ultimately a storyteller, and there is no one who can tell her story with the right pathos and inflection than she herself, with her own voice. The second reason was that my credit on Audible rolled over the same day her book became available.
Having been an avid reader of her blog for many years, I already knew more about her life than I did as a 12 year old girl devastated that her favourite actress was not in films anymore. But her memoir isn’t a rehash of her essays – it’s an honest, witty and often times tearful look into her life, told not chronologically (as I expected) but thematically. She talks with refreshing honesty about her anxiety and mental health; she talks about the difficulties of being cute in Hollywood; she talks about her mother and losing her to cancer. She talks about Robin Williams, she talks about sex, love and life in general.
Where most of us had normal childhoods and could go through puberty in (relative) privacy with the support of parents, it shook me to the core when she described a moment on the set of Thomas and the Magic Railroad where she is taken aside and asked to put on a training bra to make her newly-growing breasts more inconspicuous for the film.
I made the mistake of listening to Where Am I Now? on the train going to and from work during the week. When she talked about the loss of her mother, I teared up more than once. I didn’t know as a child, watching Matilda, that she had lost her mother during the film. It’s a reminder that no matter how public a person is, there is always so much going on behind the scenes. It’s easy to adore a celebrity from afar and to watch all their films and think you know them, but their life – rightfully so – is their own private life, and it’s their right to tell it when and how they desire.
But this isn’t a sad book! It’s not necessarily light and it’s definitely emotional (I’m so glad I brought a handkerchief with me on the train), but on some of the occasions I teared up, it was out of joy, or because something Wilson described resonated hard with me. She’s witty and clever, and some of her stories are downright laugh-out-loud hilarious.
I’m glad I listened to this on audiobook. Wilson is a gifted writer and storyteller, refreshingly candid and a voice I hope to hear much more of in the future.
Thanks for being there when I was eight years old with few friends in primary school, Matilda. And thank you for being here now, Mara Wilson.