Reading Jane by Susannah Kennedy

Join us on September 13 at 6:00pm as author Susannah Kennedy discusses her memoir, Reading Jane.

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After the calculated suicide of Susannah Kennedy’s domineering and narcissistic mother, Susannah Kennedy grapples with the ties between mothers and daughters and the choices parents make in this gripping memoir that shows what freedom looks like when we choose to examine the uncomfortable past.

Jane is to the world a charismatic personality—opinionated, an inner-city teacher and public activist, a lover of Italy, proud and successful—who thrives on a carefully crafted life narrative. Susannah is her beautiful only daughter, her intended protégé. All through Susannah’s childhood, Jane settles once per day to chronicle her life. In those years of magnetic twosomeness, “Mommy, can I read your diaries?” is a frequent question. Jane starts off saying “Some day” and then she changes to “When you are the age I was when I wrote them,” then, later, it becomes “Maybe,” then “No, probably never.” The diaries recede. Susannah grows up.

But then Jane at 75, healthy and fit, chooses suicide, insisting it would be better for everyone this way. That controlling assessment is wrong from the moment Susannah hears the news and has to identify the body. As someone who has always sensed the stricter, darker truth, and fought to resist the control imposed on her by her mother’s seductive tale, she actively resists reading the 45 years of diaries her mother left behind. When she finally dares to “read” Jane, it’s like unlatching Pandora’s Box. For a year, Susannah reads, twisting and turning to the truths she uncovers, comparing what she remembers against the strange pull of her mother’s public tale. This process is accompanied by physical symptoms, each memory encased in her body. And then she uncovers yet another secret, one that redefines her mother forever. At last Susannah is able to separate, heal and embrace her own story.


Berkeley and Oxford-educated anthropologist Susannah Kennedy was born in India and raised in the United States. Later, she traveled extensively on her own, first in Italy, and then through the Middle East and India, settling for two years in Egypt before becoming a reporter in Dallas, Texas. At Oxford University, she specialized in Arab culture and politics, receiving her DPhil in social anthropology. She and her psychoanalyst husband lived and worked in Germany, raising three children in a thatched-roof farmhouse in the countryside outside Hamburg. Her mother’s suicide and its aftermath brought them back to Santa Cruz, California in 2017. They now reside in Marin County.


"The best book I’ve read in years. The alternating spirals of love and distancing between an adult daughter who sought warmth, and a mother who just couldn’t deliver it. Elegant and beautifully written."— David Bodanis, best-selling author of The Art of Fairness: The Power of Decency in a World Turned Mean

"Reading Jane is a beautifully told story of a mercurial, larger- than-life mother whose choice to end her own life while still in her prime sets her daughter on a quest to understand her mother’s inner world by reading her diaries. A fascinating tale of mother-daughter love shot through with longing, enmeshment and disappointment. I found myself rooting for the author to free herself from her mother’s grip and rejoiced when she did. By turns intriguing and repellent, the glamorous, eccentric Jane kept me reading late into the night and stayed with me long after I closed the book. Reading Jane is a triumph both as a literary memoir and as a contribution to the ongoing right-to- die debate in this country."—Zoe FitzGerald Carterauthor of Imperfect Endings

"Reading Jane is a brilliant memoir. It opens the door for each of us to truly consider what our family life (or lack of it) has meant to whom we have become. Kennedy reads her mother’s journals after her mother’s intentional end of life. What she learns and how it informs her own developmental history is presented in vivid, poignant, reflective terms. Her use of meta- phor and shifts in time and space create a relational portrait of transgenerational and extended family experience that is both heartbreaking and invigorating. It is a gift to clinicians and non- clinicians alike."— Dr. Harriet Wolfe, M.D., President, International Psychoanalytical Association

"Reading Jane is an extraordinary memoir of family secrets, love, loss, and a daughter’s quest to understand how her moth- er’s twisted history and death by suicide shaped her own life. Susannah Kennedy, raised the only child of a single mother in the kaleidoscopic days of the late 20th and early 21st century, writes with clear-eyed, sometimes brutal honesty. Her experi- ence of other cultures—summers in Italy, life on multiple con- tinents—informs and enriches the tale. Kennedy uncovers, in this deeply personal story, more than a few universal truths. A gifted first-time author, she leaves us wanting more."—Fran Moreland Johns, board member End of Life Choices California, author of Marshallville Stories, Dying Unafraid and Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade

Event address: 
1625 2nd St
Napa, CA 94559
Reading Jane: A Daughter's Memoir By Susannah Kennedy Cover Image
ISBN: 9781736795477
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Sibylline Press - September 5th, 2023

A gripping memoir that shows what freedom looks like when we choose to examine the uncomfortable pastJane is to the world a charismatic personality - opinionated, an inner-city teacher and public activist, a lover of Italy, proud and successful - who thrives on a carefully crafted life narrative.