book reviews

A review of My Mother, the Psychopath: Growing up in the shadow of a monster

Before I get too cranked up with today’s book review, I want to express appreciation to my mom, who is most definitely NOT a psychopath. The older I get, the more I appreciate her… and the fact that she doesn’t have an overwhelming need to control me, especially since my father passed. If you have a parent who isn’t a control freak, you may feel even more appreciation for him or her after reading Olivia Rayne’s book, My Mother, the Psychopath: Growing up in the shadow of a monster. I have known people whose mothers were much too controlling and did horrible, cruel things to their children. As difficult as it is to grow up, especially nowadays, I think it must be so much harder when one of your parents is toxic and downright cruel. Now… with that out of the way, on with today’s book review.

I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to download Olivia Rayne’s book about her psychopath mother, which was released in January 2019. I love true stories. I am fascinated by psychology. I’ve also been close to people with overcontrolling parents with psychological problems. Indeed, my father was an alcoholic, and his problems with alcoholism brought out some control freak tendencies in him and my mom, who was mostly trying to keep things functional. They also brought out a tendency in them to be neglectful. However, after reading My Mother, the Psychopath, I feel pretty damned fortunate. My parents never tried to sabotage me in any way. They never harassed me with constant phone calls, emails, and texts. They didn’t become involved in my love life, nor did they encourage me to be involved with a psychopath. They were happy when I succeeded, and they were supportive when I needed help, even if they were sometimes reluctant to help me.

Olivia Rayne did not have a good mother. Her mom, a French artist named Josephine, was downright poisonous. Far from the nurturing, caring, kind person a mom is stereotypically supposed to be, Josephine was the mother from hell. In her book, My Mother, the Psychopath, twenty-something Olivia describes growing up with a mom who did cruel things almost on a whim. Josephine was cunning, charming, beautiful, and elegant. She could sell ice to Eskimos if the mood suited her. But underneath that gorgeous, exciting, and charismatic exterior was a woman who did everything she could to destroy her daughter, short of killing her.

Josephine was married to Olivia’s British father, Clive, a man who meekly tolerated his wife’s ridiculous shenanigans. Although Olivia apparently saw him as the saner, less abusive parent, Clive was complicit in his wife’s abuse of their only daughter by supporting her when she decided on a whim to move to different countries around Europe– from Martinique to England to Germany to France to Monaco, Olivia was moved whenever her mother decided she needed a fresh start. Olivia would lose her friends, lose ground in her schoolwork in different countries as the requirements and languages were different, and her sense of familiarity within her environment. Her mother would give her things– a new puppy or a pond full of wildlife– only to take them away. The puppy would be rehomed in just months. The pond and all of the wildlife within it would be destroyed by liquid soap in the water placed there by a mother who couldn’t stand to see her daughter attached to anything besides her.

When Olivia grew older and had more of a say over her life, her mother would continue to try to control her. She’d sabotage her schoolwork by forcing sudden, drastic moves. She’d call up her co-workers and bosses at different jobs, accusing her of being in trouble with the police for stealing or even being unsafe around children. She’d tell outrageous lies to Olivia’s friends and love interests in an attempt to get them to abandon her. There was only one boyfriend of Olivia’s that her mother approved of– Sean– a cocaine addict and dealer who was abusive, unfaithful, and prone to rages. Strangely, Josephine was supportive of Olivia’s relationship with Sean, even though Sean ran up huge debts in Olivia’s name, sold and abused cocaine, and cheated on her with many other women.

A healthy person would not stand for this kind of treatment, but when it’s delivered by a parent, and that parent has done everything in his or her power in an attempt to retard their child’s development, it becomes especially difficult to break free of the abuse. Olivia had loving relatives in her grandparents. Josephine’s French parents recognized that their daughter was toxic and cruel. Clive’s mother, Granny, was despised by Josephine, probably because she could see right through her and refused to tolerate as much of her bullshit as other people did. But it was Olivia who bore the brunt of the abuse, and it was Olivia who had to make the heartbreaking decision to go “no contact” with her own mother. Every time she thought she’d made strides toward independence, her mother would find a way to be in contact and screw everything up again.

I liked the way Olivia Rayne and her ghost writer set up this book. Each chapter begins with a symptom of psychopathy and a description of the behavior. Then the chapter would show how Josephine displayed those characteristics, all in a readable, page turning fashion. I found My Mother, the Psychopath fascinating, but it’s also well-written and insightful. I formed pictures of the people involved in the story, as well as the places Olivia described. Yes, it’s a book about a psychopath, but it’s also a hell of a compelling story. It might even make an interesting film.

Part of the reason this book was so compelling to me is that I think my husband’s ex wife is much like Josephine. Many of her behaviors are very similar and, in fact, as Bill talks to his younger daughter more and more, he’s hearing stories about what it was like for her to grow up with a mother who did her best to sabotage and control her. I must admit, since those stories have come to light, my opinion of my husband’s daughters has changed drastically. This book didn’t have much to do with my change of opinion toward my husband’s children, but it did give me another shot of empathy toward their situation. Growing up with healthy parents is hard. Growing up when one of your parents is a psychopath is much, much, harder. Every success is hard won, and every success, even if the parent did his or her best to squelch it, will be shared with the narcissistic parent, who will do their best to take all the credit. Of course, when things go wrong, that same parent will not take any responsibility at all, even if the failure is entirely due to something they did or didn’t do.

I think this is an excellent book for those who are interested in true stories, particularly if they are also interested in psychology. It’s a very good example of what happens when a child grows up with a toxic parent, although so far, Olivia’s story has a somewhat happy ending. Unfortunately, her ending is not necessarily the norm– and honestly, I can’t even say that the story has ended. She will have to stay no contact with her mom, which is very sad and will be quite difficult. As of the book’s end, Olivia had been no contact for a couple of years, but there’s no telling if she might fall into her mother’s clutches again. Psychopaths and narcissists are cunning, charming, and always angling for control. It takes a lot of will and strength to stay out of their crosshairs.

If I were rating this on a five star scale, I’d give it five stars. I think it’s a great read.

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