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Busy Being Free by Emma Forrest

10.17.22
Busy Being Free by Emma Forrest

The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood is one of the only books I have allowed myself to re-read in recent years. A hilarious memoir based between London and LA, such is my obsession with it that I will read anything and everything that Heawood subsequently recommends. And so it was that when she recently shared a picture of Busy Being Free by Emma Forrest on its publication day, I soon after bought it, and moved it to the top of my ever-growing pile of books I Want To Finish Before The Year Is Out.

A sucker for a memoir – particularly one set between two cities in which I’ve lived – I went on to spend possibly the only sunny weekend we’ll have in Bondi this year spent at the beach with Emma’s book, and oh, what a joyful weekend it was.

Busy Being Free Book Review

Lauded by everyone from Nigella Lawson to Lisa Taddeo, the title of Busy Being Free is taken from the song Cactus Tree by Joni Mitchell, in which Mitchell sings about an unnamed woman’s need for freedom and resistance to romantic commitment. In every case, the woman “thinks she loves them all” but ultimately is always “too busy being free.” – a notion which ties in beautifully with the melodies of Busy Being Free.

Emma Forrest’s second memoir, Busy Being Free is a vibrant and vivid account of both a crumbling Hollywood marriage and its aftermath, and the author’s life-long romantic obsession. It opens in London – where Forrest has moved to in the wake of her divorce from her Australian actor husband – when another mother visits her new flat and asks, “how did this happen to you?” – referencing Emma’s move from a huge family home in the Hollywood Hills to a small attic flat in deepest north London. What follows is a stunning account of solitude and romance, grief, marriage and divorce, and a candid look at the paths we take when life doesn’t turn out quite how we expected it would.

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The narrative weaves between Emma’s life before, during and after her marriage, and it offers readers an intimate look at the life of an enduring romantic as she navigates leaving London behind for New York, and then sunny California, before returning to London – the city that had ‘shamed her’ to solo parent her young daughter during the pandemic.

When her divorce coincides with the election of Trump, Emma takes a vow of celibacy, and it’s against this backdrop that she decides to abstain from both men and intimacy; having spent much of her previous life doing the absolute opposite.

We met a variety of men during Busy Being Free – including both her worst sexual experiences, and then, later, some of her best – and despite their frequent appearance, Emma does a wonderful job of making the memoir about so much more than men.

A look at what it is to be a woman, and what it is to define oneself outside of the framework so often ascribed to women – Busy Being Free is an absorbing account of being alone, and one you’ll want to read in a single, insatiable, sitting.

Busy Being Free Summary

What happens when your story doesn’t end the way you thought it would?

When the dream life you have been working towards becomes something you must walk away from?

When you swap a Hollywood marriage and a LA mansion with waterside views, for a little attic flat shared only with your daughter, beneath the star-filled sky of deepest North London?

When you find yourself not lonely, but elated – elated to be alone with yourself, who you genuinely thought you might never get to see again?

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When, after a life guided by romantic obsession, you decide to turn your back not only on marriage, but all romantic and sexual attachments?

When you find yourself not lonely, but elated – elated to be alone with yourself.

This is the most romantic book you’ll ever read about deciding to be single. This is a memoir about love and heartbreak, about sex and celibacy, about marriage and divorce, and what comes after that.

Further reading

I loved Emma’s feature on Vogue: Getting Divorced Made Me Reassess My Entire Wardrobe, and why not find out which eight books Emma Forrest would take with her to a desert island?

Emma Forrest Author Bio

Born in London, Emma Forrest began her writing career as a teenage columnist on the Sunday Times, going on to have columns in The Guardian, the Independent and Elle. By thirty, she had published three novels and exited journalism to work in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Her memoir Your Voice In My Head is beloved by Nick Hornby, Dolly Alderton, Bryony Gordon, Emma Gannon, Florence Welch and Elizbeth Gilbert. Emma wrote and directed her first feature Untogether, which premiered at the Tribeca Film festival. Her most recent novel was the Radio 2 Book Club pick, Royals, praised by Marian Keyes, David Nicholls and Emma Jane Unsworth.

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