Book Review: Unbridled: a memoir by Barbara McNally

imgres-1A copy of Unbridled was sent to 4Mothers a few months back.  The jacket synopsis intrigued me but between the daily chaos of life and a pile of delicious books waiting to be devoured on my night table, Unbridled sat unread.

When packing for my mom conference in Miami, I opted to leave behind the meaty read that I had just started in favour of something lighter and easy to entertain while sunning on the beach.  Unbridled seemed like the perfect choice: betrayal, divorce, sexual awakening, feminist liberation . . .and it’s just over 200 pages.  Perfect for the lazy days ahead.

Barbara McNally was raised with a strict Baptist upbringing and spent her youth engaged in church activities and living a demure life according to her parents’ religious views.  As a young co-ed she met the man of her mother’s dreams and blinded by other people’s expectations she lost herself in a seemingly perfect marriage.  Many years pass and Barbara is unable to squelch her feelings of restlessness and seeks salvation in the arms of another man.

After her divorce Barbara finds herself truly alone for the first time in her life.  No longer under the rule of her father or husband, she is forced to create a life of her own.   Inspired by the memory of her ebullient, free-spirited, Vaudevillian grandmother, Barbara sets off on a wistful journey of self-discovery where she returns to her ancestral roots in Ireland and later to a hedonistic retreat in Jamaica.  In both countries she opens herself to experiences that profoundly change her idea of self.  Finally she is able to shed the expectations of others, push aside the notion of perfection and embrace life’s lessons in the most poignant situations.

Barbara awakened her passion and is now dedicated to empowering women and encouraging others to forge their own life path and create their own destiny.

McNally’s writing is rich with vivid descriptions making the Irish countryside and sun-soaked Jamaica come alive off the page.   Her writing is at times heart-breakingly honest as she bares herself entirely, exposing her nastiness, fragility and ambiguity at the risk of offending her readers but her transparency is genuine and engaged this reader’s encouragement.  Nonetheless there are moments, albeit few, where I wished the author had not been so cursory in describing seemingly intense events, in particular when she learns her father’s rectitude is nothing but a sham.

Unbridled has a familiar tone and message to Eat, Pray, Love  by Elizabeth Gilbert but Barbara McNally’s journey is filled with less navel-gazing and searching for love than her struggle to connect with and liberate herself.  As someone in a fulfilling relationship who has never been divorced, I was skeptical as to whether Barbara’s memoir would keep my attention but the message of her tome is universal: live life fearlessly, embrace experiences as they come and re-connect with your roots to better understand your present.  Husband or no husband, kids or no kids this is a book about being a woman and nurturing the beauty that lies within.

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