Why Not Say What Happened?: A Memoir

Why Not Say What Happened?: A Memoir

by Ivana Lowell

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An astonishing and at times outright comic memoir that marks the brilliant debut of a writer raised in a creative, bohemian household characterized by extreme privilege tinged with neglect.

Born into one of the most celebrated Anglo-Irish families, the Guinnesses, Ivana Lowell tells a stunning story of coming to terms with her blue-blood heritage and her own


An astonishing and at times outright comic memoir that marks the brilliant debut of a writer raised in a creative, bohemian household characterized by extreme privilege tinged with neglect.

Born into one of the most celebrated Anglo-Irish families, the Guinnesses, Ivana Lowell tells a stunning story of coming to terms with her blue-blood heritage and her own childhood traumas. It is also the story of her intense relationship with her formidably intelligent and complicated mother, the writer Caroline Blackwood. A keen observer with an incisive eye, a wicked sense of humor, and no self-pity, Lowell sets a wide range of scenes with a truly unexpected, almost madcap cast of characters, introducing us to such eccentric figures as her maternal grandmother, Maureen, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. She takes us from the marchioness’s annual ball for her idol and old friend, the Queen Mother, to Maureen’s stately Irish home, Clandeboye (where the marchioness hopes to die), to summers in Dufferin’s villa in Sardinia; through moves to carelessly furnished, drafty, too-large English country houses with her mother and stepfather, the poet Robert Lowell; to working in Manhattan at Miramax Books for Harvey Weinstein and a trip with his brother, Bob, to the Academy Awards; to her wedding at New York’s Rainbow Room and finally to a life with her daughter. Ivana also has darker stories to tell including her own stints in rehab, and discovering, after her mother’s death, the secret Lady Caroline had successfully kept from her.

Why Not Say What Happened? introduces a dazzling new literary voice and the fascinating story of a tragic and remarkable family.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Named after a line from a poem by Robert Lowell, her mother's third husband and an important stabilizing presence in her early life, this self-searching, poor-little-rich-girl story is, in ways, a search for a father. Alcoholism ran through Ivana Lowell's family, the descendants of the Guinness beer fortune; her fabulous grandmother, Maureen, married royalty, and cultivated "talented snobs," while her mother, novelist Lady Caroline Blackwood, who had grown up in northern Ireland, crossed into bohemia by first marrying Lucian Freud, then composer Israel Citkowitz. Moving between New York's Greenwich Village and London, her mother also had affairs with English screenwriter Ivan Moffat and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers, so it was never clear who was the author's father.After her mother's marriage to Robert Lowell, the family lived in a rustic house in Kent; there, the author was sexually molested by a caretaker. Lowell embarked on her own destructive drinking while at various boarding schools, attended drama school, and ended up in New York working for Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Miramax. In alternate chapters she chronicles her extensive rehab over the years, her voice stripped of all vanity and self-pity, revealing a near palpable relief in baring the unlovely details. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

“An exhilarating roller-coaster ride of a book, full of the sort of wonderfully terrible secrets writers seldom have the guts to tell, let alone with such an assured and beguiling candor—but then of course, Ivana’s Irish and a born writer .”
—John Richardson, author of A Life of Picasso, volumes 1-3
"Ivana Lowell’s memoir is a heart-breaking account of a gifted woman, her brilliant but destructive parents, and a glamorous, aristocratic life that was laced with arsenic. That she survived and now shines as literary force in her own right is apparent from the very first page. Why Not Say What Happened? is a tour de force."
—Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
“Shocking and hilarious, this elegantly lucid memoir by Ivana Lowell is that lethal mix of British aristocracy, giant fortunes, huge freezing houses, beautiful women jagged with sophistication, pedophilia, mysterious paternity, cruelty and yes, cocktails. We are reminded of the plays of Oscar Wilde and novels from Ronald Firbank to Evelyn Waugh as we are introduced to a lively and unlikely mix that includes the Queen Mother and Harvey and Bob Weinstein. I am not making this up.
The startling thing is how recent all this is and how extreme. Lowell is impressive and touching in sparing us none of this tragicomedy, least of all herself.”
—Mike Nichols

“Ivana Lowell's Why Not Say What happened? is a particularly lucid memoir of growing up in simultaneous extremes of privilege and neglect. The book is a riveting history of a family that folds in on itself, consuming generation after generation with money, power, alcoholism, and profound selfishness and emotional disconnection. Lowell’s compact, finely tuned paragraphs render the saga with brave urgency and courage, and while the import and impact of events is horrifyingly clear, there’s an absence of melodrama to the telling and a deep compassion—call it love—for those who failed the author so miserably.”
—A. M. Homes, Elle
“Her recollections . . . could have made for grim reading, but Lowell’s writing remains conversational and refreshingly free of self-pity.”
—Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“The tales she recounts about her upbringing range from tender to funny to outright absurd . . . [She has] a wry, unblunted grip on her life story . . . Lowell has executed an impeccable memoir.”    
—Claire Howorth, The Daily Beast
“[A] clear-eyed chronicle . . .”
Town & Country

Kirkus Reviews

Unflinching memoir about growing up affluent and unhappy in Britain.

All she wanted was a normal, suburban existence. But for Lowell, under the veneer of privilege as the daughter of a wealthy heiress lay many miserable years of alcoholism, benign neglect and emotional turmoil. Family, household, relationships—all suffered from the "family problem." With an aristocratic pedigree that stretched back centuries, Lowell spent the public part of her young life attending balls and having tea with royals, and the rest of it tiptoeing around her volatile mother in a series of ramshackle mansions. Her mother, arguably the main character of the book, could be self-absorbed, overly dramatic, conniving, exasperating, socially awkward and remarkably unmaternal. It is telling that one of her mother's husbands, the poet Robert Lowell, with his crippling bouts of mania and mental illness, emerges as the most stable person in her childhood. Scarred literally and figuratively by her childhood, she nevertheless grew into a powerful and privileged young woman, hobnobbing with royalty, movie stars, artists and writers, and even dating Harvey Weinstein. But eventually substance abuse got to her, too, and she spent years bouncing in and out of rehab facilities. After her mother's death, she encountered the mystery of her own paternity, a theme explored in the last few chapters. Part of the narrative's power comes from the fact that the narrator, though certainly recovering, is not quite out of the woods yet, and she doesn't speak with illusions of perfect hindsight. Her keenly honest descriptions of her extraordinary circumstances keep the narrative moving swiftly. The other part of the story's allure—perhaps ironically for a book that shows how privilege doesn't always bring happiness or contentment—is the glamorous crowd that surrounded her. Lowell never tries to impress us, but her life undoubtedly makes for a juicy read.

An unsettling yet entertaining chronicle of an exceptional life.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Ivana Lowell grew up in London, Boston, and New York. She now lives in Sag Harbor with her daughter.

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