Why Ever Did I Want to Write is a patchwork of themed stories about one man’s early life, embracing highs and lows but driven by a desire to make the most of being alive, to experience, to feel, and above all to understand. Reminiscent of Karl Knausgaard’s “A Death in the Family” and Theodore Zeldin’s “An Intimate History of Humanity”, this memoir sees Lyons reflecting on a repressed childhood, exploring the world through years of travelling, and searching for meaning and excitement in the arts and love affairs – an archetype of the counterculture in the 1970s and 1980s.
Lyons remembers little of his young life, a striking admission for a memoirist, yet the consistent thread here is the bedrock of his extensive and lively diaries. It is through these, and partly because of them, that he moves inexorably towards writing as a way of life: not only in his existential search, to understand himself and his place in society, but to earn a living, and as an outlet for his creative self.
In the early chapters, Lyons employs family letters to uncover uncomfortable details about his grandfather – a film producer once on Hitler’s hit list – as well as the disquieting immaturity of his natural ‘flip-flap’ father and the stifling influence of his stepfather. Later chapters follow him on the hippie trail, into the alternative theatre world, through a shattering breakdown, and to fresh adventures in Rio de Janeiro as a freelance journalist. This rich and thoughtful memoir concludes with Lyons on the cusp of fatherhood, determined not to follow in the footsteps of either of his fathers.