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Amy, My Daughter - review

A father's attempt to reclaim his megastar daughter.

Amy, My Daughter
Mitch Winehouse
HarperCollins, 320pp, £20

Few men are required to defend themselves against a line of music. But that retrospectively incriminating lyric in “Rehab” – “If my daddy thinks I’m fine” – would have been reason enough for Mitch Winehouse’s book. Amy, My Daughter is also an act of magical thinking (“Amy will be with us for ever”), an attempt to reclaim a megastar as “mine” and a shot at containing the uncontainable: that Mitch’s little girl died before him.

The account is consistently defensive, but understandably so, given the riot of amateur Freudians Mitch anticipates and the degree to which they misrepresent the psychoanalytic viewpoint. The role of father – or mother – is never the sole province of an individual. Being a “mother” is a multilayered undertaking requiring a woman, her partner, some grand - parents, uncles, aunts, some adult friends and a society that respects women, childhood and couples staying together. That divorced dads like Mitch are sometimes unable, in the course of exquisite weekend consolations, to prepare their children for life’s disappointments is no surprise.

Mitch feels that he “overindulged” Amy, “probably through guilt” after his divorce. But his attentions had always had a singular in - tensity. He once kidded Amy into believing some “stories I made up” about being a mountain climber, heart surgeon and footballer. Amy’s teacher sent a note: “Your daughter is deluded and needs help.” Mitch struggled “not to laugh” when he and Amy’s mother were summoned to a school meeting about Amy’s behaviour; her prohibited belly ring was “just her expressing herself”. But child discipline is a dull tutelage in mortal limitations a kid-portion training for death. The daughter who doesn’t rage at bedtime may, one day, go gentle into that good night. Amy had trouble sleeping – and getting up. Mitch’s ex-wife once phoned him: “Your daughter won’t get out of bed.” Mitch drove from Chingford to north London to assist.

Mitch’s “real story” neglects to ask how paternal adoration and its departure from the home was assimilated by a psyche later prone to addiction. He reports without reflection Amy’s dread of his hearing lyrics about “my Freudian fate”. Still, no father could have imagined the amplification of her vulnerabilities brought about by her wider treatment. Though her insubordination warranted expulsion, Sylvia Young, the headmistress of Amy’s stage school, weighed it against her “special talent” and “put up with it”. The “academic head teacher” worried Amy would “fail her GCSEs”. Sylvia Young was “very upset” and “the head teacher left shortly afterwards”.

The book also sidesteps the impact of heredity. In her introductory letter to Young, 12-yearold Amy wrote: “. . . my dad’s family are the singing, dancing, all-nutty musical extravaganza”. Unlike them, she wanted “to do something with the talents I’ve been ‘blessed with’. My dad is content to sing loudly in his office and sell windows.” If Mitch was “content”, an “extravaganza” can’t have conditioned Amy to believe it. Her longing to “push myself to the limit and even beyond that” suggests a moti - vation larger than the child who embodied it. This may be the supernatural requirement of superstardom.

Amy’s husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, was an ideal partner in harm. After meeting him, Mitch asked his daughter: “Who are you trying to be?” One advantage non-superstars have over superstars is inadequate funding to manifest their delusions. Whether it’s the precursor or consequence of fame, narcissism, despite the lakeside archetype, is not picturesque; it’s a doomed fistfight with incarnation. The stage-school lexicon had prepped Amy for something miraculous. She tap-danced “better” than “Ginger Rogers”, her voice was “life-changing”. Jonathan Franzen described his own letdown in a literary context: ‘‘. . . the money, the hype, the limo . . . weren’t simply fringe benefits. They were the main prize.” Intoxicated on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Amy was urged by Simon Amstell to work with sunny Katie Melua rather than Pete Doherty. Her response was her existential stance: “I would rather die of cat Aids.”

The addict’s tumble from euphoria to chaos is as old as the story of Icarus, though Mitch’s version is jazzy with “helicopters” and “paps”. His project “to fix my daughter” was hopeless, Blake’s collusion with Amy being one problem, “the silent rapture of fans” another. In the Buddhist text Digha Nikaya, Buddha says: “But truly, Ananda, it is nothing strange that a human being should die.” The desire for immortality is strange, though, and its permutations are the source of art and aspiring to “sell-out shows”. That Amy should have been “blessed with” sufficient gifts to exacerbate her delusions was very unlucky. Talent, not “love”, was the “losing hand”.

Talitha Stevenson’s most recent novel is “Disappear” (Virago, £8.99)

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The London Issue