Review: Tigerish Waters – Sophie Reilly

Launching this week is a stirring book written from the front line of a bright young woman’s battle with her mental health. Tigerish Waters is the selected writings of Glasgow-born Sophie Reilly, edited by her brother Samuel Reilly after Sophie took her life last year. This striking combination of poetry, prose and fiction is both an upsetting marker of a waste of talent and a celebration of a short but thoughtful life.

Knowing the context around Tigerish Waters you might not expect the book to be so funny, but Sophie’s voice and style is a lot of really wonderful things, and comic is one of them. Having suffered with a plethora of mental illnesses including Anorexia Nervosa, Bipolar Affective Disorder and Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, her writing speaks of unfathomable pain and hardship as well as total euphoria. By articulating her relationship with her mental health through drama, poetry, short stories and diary entries, Tigerish Waters offers insight into a gritty reality of extreme highs and the lowest of lows.

The dark, ironic and humorous style leaves you wanting more from this talented young writer, but then you remember the context of the book’s publication and it all begins to feel desperately sad. Throughout, Sophie talks about the future, specifically about when she’s written a play or a memoir or a novel. “Nobody who attempts or commits suicide wants to die” she writes, and we think of how a book was always supposed to be part of Sophie’s future, but the reality is not how anyone, least of all Sophie, would have wanted it to come about. And yet, the publication of Tigerish Waters does come with barrels of hope. All profits made by the book are being donated to the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH). The book passes comment on the “non-existence” of Dundee’s mental health services and the counter-productive support Sophie felt she received. Tigerish Waters has the power to serve as a real wake up call to a revolution that needs to happen with the treatment of mental illness in Scotland and beyond.

For me personally, I was deeply effected by the normality of Sophie’s life. At first glance it is all very relatable. In her diary entries she talks about Gavin and Stacey, Harry Potter, Orange is the New Black, even her crush on the show’s star. She expresses her concerns about the overbearing presence of social media on girls’ self-esteem and she hesitates over whether or not she really needs a smartphone. She was a normal young woman with a promising future (she had been accepted to study Theology and Literature at St Andrews). If one ever needs a reminder of how mental health issues can and do impact everyone and anyone, Tigerish Waters is a prime example. In one diary entry Sophie calls us to take pride in our mental health issues. Taking inspiration from some of the triumphs of the Gay Pride movement Sophie titles the essay “Mental Health Pride”. It is a confident approach to mental illness that could have a really positive effect in my opinion, and I hope that message will be another positive thing to come from Sophie’s life.

“If one ever needs a reminder of how mental health issues can and do impact everyone and anyone, Tigerish Waters is a prime example.”

For me, the two most poignant parts of the book were the short play “Before the Snuff of the Lights” and the poem “Birth & Growth.” While both play an important part in telling Sophie’s story, they are also standout for their quality and creativity. (Update: I just heard a performance of “Before the Snuff of Lights” at the book’s London launch, which only affirmed my opinion that it is really extraordinary and mindful piece of writing.)

It is easy to get swept up in the circumstances of Tigerish Waters’ publication, when perhaps the emphasis should be on the phenomenal talent the lies in the sentences and verses of Sophie’s writing. Anyone who has ever lived and wondered why will find something in this book that makes them say “I thought it was just me.” From that, I hope they will be motivated to demand help, receive it and share their unique voice with the world.

Tigerish Waters, the selected writings of Sophie Reilly, edited by Samuel Reilly, is available on Amazon for £6.99. Published by Mad Weir Books, all profits from the book will be donated the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

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