Ivana Lowell’s raw and turbulent memoir has all the makings of a celebrity tell-all. But Lowell, who also once dated Bob Weinstein of Miramax, isn’t a typical celebrity – unless you’re familiar with the Guinnesses or the poet Robert Lowell, you’re unlikely to recognize her name –and the book’s glitz is derived merely from spotlighting what were to her everyday aspects of an eccentric upbringing and struggle with “‘the family problem’” as the Guinnesses call alcoholism. But in the end, Lowell manages to tell a lot about others, yet little about herself.
Early on, Lowell appears ready to lay her life bare, writing “I feel I have f—– up my life” and dropping a series of compelling anecdotes in a time-traveling, almost haphazard narrative that reveal a woman in search of herself. The book is couched as a means to determine “what part of my history has so ill-equipped me to function in adulthood” via the search for her real father. The day after her mother’s death, Lowell learned the man she thought was her father, Israel Citkowitz, was not. Thus she appears to be actively confronting the question: Can you know yourself if you don’t know from where you come?
At the same time, Lowell already knows a lot. She and her family are heirs to the Guinness fortune, and her grandmother, Maureen Guinness, to whom she became close in her advanced years, was one of “‘the glorious Guinness girls’” and Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. Her mother is the writer Lady Caroline Blackwood, whom Lowell adores as if her faults (including hiding Ivana’s true father’s identity) didn’t matter. She was raised in grand estates furnished not so grandly, surrounded by royals and the rich, from painters such as Francis Bacon to the “Cake” (aka Britain’s Queen Mother), mixed with Hollywood-ites like the screenwriter Ivan Moffatt, and raised by the famous, including Lowell’s adopted father, the poet Robert. Her family drank too much and didn’t fit in, but she’d always been told others needed to “get them.” Her world was theworld.
While Lowell is forthcoming about her alcoholism, sharing brief memories and observations about the disease and stints in rehab, we don’t learn much about how it really affected her life and psyche. Other facets of her life go similarly unreported, from central issues such as how the poet and her mother ended up together to how her aunts sued her grandmother because she transferred trust fund benefits to Lowell and her sister. In fact, she doesn’t mention her monetary situation at all, although you get the impression there was never a dearth of wealth, and it seems to solve many of her external issues. Really, she doesn’t seem to do much scavenging beyond her own memories.
Her disarming prose can’t help but draw one into her story, but upon close examination, the story never digs too deep. Lowell offers a taste of a life lived among the who’s who of British royal culture, of American literati and glitterati and fleeting insight into how drugs and alcohol circle the lives of the well off and storied. She allows you to think for a moment that you know her as she gives away just enough pieces to catch and hold one’s attention. But ultimately she keeps the whole she has been seeking all to herself.