Too much? Indeed not. The point about throwing beer on terrible men is that you have to keep doing it—until the beer’s gone, or the men are gone, or the terribleness is gone. Besides, the volatility of Albertine has been her guiding spirit, her daemon. From 1976 to 1982 she played guitar in the Slits, the all-female punky reggae rockers who came out of the same London scene as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, but whose weaponized amateurism and romping, gyno-riotous presentation put them deeper into the unknown than any of their male counterparts. “The repression your female ancestors suffered,” she writes, “accumulates over the generations, resentment building in daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter like hair clogging a washing-machine filter, until along comes a child who is so pumped full of fury that she kicks all obstructions out of the way.”
This is a theme of To Throw Away Unopened: the transmission of anger, from generation to generation, through the sinews of the body and the psyche. Albertine got her anger twofold—from her odd, obstinate, shouty French father with his unfashionable head of Beatle-style hair, and from her shrewd, acerbic London mum, who got it from her mum, who got it from her mum. The book’s other themes include Albertine’s bowels, the lie that is romance, and the battle against body hair. “I dream about hair every night. Eyebrow hair, face hair, underarm hair, arse hair, pubic hair. I dream the hair on my legs is as long, straight, black and shiny as liquorice bootlaces, and the bootlaces trail out of the bottom of my jeans, dragging along the ground as I walk down the street.”
Albertine’s father, long estranged from his children, dies, and in his stuffy apartment in France, Albertine finds a self-pitying diary that he wrote when he and her mum were separating. As she reads it, the first bubbles of empathy travel her system—she begins, uncertainly, to feel for this man. Her mother dies, and in her London flat on top of her wardrobe, Albertine finds an Aer Lingus flight bag with the legend written on in Wite-Out: “To Throw Away—UNOPENED.” More papers, more revelations. “Another dead parent,” she writes, “another empty flat, another dodgy bag.”
If you can manage it, somewhere during your reading of To Throw Away Unopened, squeeze in a viewing of the new documentary Here To Be Heard: The Story of The Slits. “Here’s a slit for ya,” said the man with the knife, coming up behind the front woman Ari Up and slashing at her through her coat and through the back of her jeans. (The Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt tells that story.) The Sex Pistols could make society cower; the Clash, dizzy utopians, whipped the blood through your veins; but the Slits alone met the stare of a bared-teeth misogyny, and kept on having their fun. Slits music (could be a nice German word: Slitzmusik) was an eccentric, choppy, danceable racket and a homemade deprogramming machine—a tool for winkling the patriarchy out of their brains.