Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

Relative Stranger

Piecing Together a Life Plagued by Madness

by Mary Loudon

“Loudon is excellent . . . spinning a real-life mystery from meetings with people who knew her long-estranged sister during the last dozen years of Catherine Loudon’s life: an era the latter spent living as a man.” —Anneli Rufus, Village Voice

  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 352
  • Publication Date March 06, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8476-7173-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 352
  • Publication Date July 24, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5784-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $23.00

About The Book

Relative Stranger is the powerful, uncompromising memoir of Mary Loudon’s search to understand the facts about the deeply troubling final years of her dead sister, Catherine. Mary, the youngest in a happy, upper-middle-class London family, had not seen Catherine for what would be the last twelve years of Catherine’s life. After discovering that Catherine had been “inhabiting the identity” of a man called Stevie, Mary plunges into a postmortem investigation, interviewing doctors, nurses, social-services representatives, nuns, café owners, grocers, and ministers who knew Catherine. Loudon paints a portrait that lays bare the pain of schizophrenia as well as its vexing complexities.

In the vein of Jeanette Walls’s best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle, Relative Stranger is an honest account of how schizophrenia affected a promising young life while exploring the assumptions people make about mental illness and what it means to love, to lose, to die, and, above all, to belong.

Tags Literary


“A gifted writer . . . With great passion, Loudon attempts in spare, incisive prose to reconstruct the life to which her sister painfully denied her access. . . . Loudon’s work is distinguished—and, ironically, made powerfully personal—by her objectivity in addressing the emotional, philosophical, and poetic conclusions she draws concerning grief, mental illness, and the difference between telling your own and another’s story. . . . Smart, affecting, and self-critically probing: a balm for anyone who has lost a loved one long before death.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In crisp prose, she pieces together Catherine’s missing years. . . . Loudon’s book is a moving and loving testament to a messy, complicated life. A-” —Tina Jordan,Entertainment Weekly

“Quietly astonishing . . . As a way of honoring her sister’s richly lived life . . . and to provide solace to those with mentally ill loved ones, Loudon uses interviews, letters, and her own observations to trace the course and plumb the depths of Catherine’s short life. A finely written ode to a tough, indomitable woman that reveals how the bonds of familial love can survive even a nearly lifelong separation.” —Elizabeth Brinkley, Library Journal

“Loudon is excellent . . . spinning a real-life mystery from meetings with people who knew her long-estranged sister during the last dozen years of Catherine Loudon’s life: an era the latter spent living as a man.” —Anneli Rufus, Village Voice

“People as empathic as Mary Loudon are rare. Writers as incisive and clean are even rarer. Her loving, sharp, elucidating journey into the mind of madness is a testament to the power of understanding, and to how far determination can take us all in the quest to touch the singular beauty and loneliness of another human soul.” —Norah Vincent, author of New York Times Bestseller Self-Made Man

“There is an old writer’s adage that is ‘write what you know,’ and Loudon has certainly stuck to that credo . . . The writing itself is . . . highly accessible, with a simple, readable, and coherent narrative structure. Loudon succeeds in challenging certain assumptions we might be prone to make when we find ourselves pitying the visibly insane people we encounter on buses, or in the street”Loudon has us take seriously the possibility that in spite of all appearances such individuals may have, as Catherine did, a life worth living.” —Metapsychology.com

“In her astonishing Relative Stranger, author Mary Loudon sets out to learn the story of her vanished sister, but winds up finding herself. A haunting, harrowing meditation on the meaning of family, of love, and of madness. Memorable, lyrical, and unsettling.” —Jennifer Boylan, author of She’s Not There

Relative Stranger is a truly extraordinary book, not just the subject matter and the wonderful vitality, yet control, of the style, but also the way Mary Loudon has structured it, the sheer management of all this difficult and wild and elusive material. And she manages to be so candid without once tipping over into victim speak. I was so impressed.” —Joanna Trollope

“Her book heaves with emotional involvement” —The Sunday Times (UK)

“An intelligent work of self-searching, self-reassurance and justification . . . [it] offers lessons and conclusions.” —The Guardian (UK)

“Move this to the top of your reading list because it’s a gem. In her harrowing but compelling memoir, Loudon examines the loss and guilt that accompany her grief. It’s a book full of questions—because isn’t that what you’re left with when you lose somebody?—as well as a vibrantly honest account of raw emotions.” —Glamour (UK)


I had my head in one of the tea chests full of pictures but in my peripheral vision I saw him pull it out and I heard him exhale. “Mary, look at this.”


“Look.” He held out the card.

“What is it?”

“Just have a look.”

I took the card. It was plain on one side. I turned it over.

P l e a s e g i v e m e a c h u r c h f u n e r a l

I turned it over and then back again.

Please give me a church funeral.

I clambered back over the pile and into the hall. I placed the card on the pile of pictures I had selected to take away from the flat. I didn’t say a word. Neither of us did.

Until, some moments later, I said, “You have to be kidding.”

Andrew said, “Damn right.”

“To find that,” I said, “I mean, of all the things in here.”

“I know.”

I shook my head, full of sorrow.

Here was a written request of such clarity. It was so spare, so unfettered. I don’t know when Catherine wrote it or in what state. I don’t know to whom it was intended, if anyone, and whether she’d intended it to be found or just written it on the spur of the moment. I don’t know whether it was written in a moment of madnessor one of lucidity.