Halfway to Venus sounds like a Science Fiction novel… but when the Venus in question is of the de Milo variety, things become clear. I don’t know how to introduce this non-fiction book, as… well, it is about living with one arm, and the history of amputation in literature and reality. But Sarah Anderson, the author, says how much she hates to be thought of as “the woman with one arm” – and Halfway to Venus shouldn’t simply be labelled “the book by the woman with one arm”.
Sarah Anderson (pictured below, in a photograph by John Swannell) had synovial sarcoma, a variety of cancer, as a child – which led her to have her left arm amputated at the age of ten. ‘I recall feeling that if I could only put into words how much I didn’t want this to happen, they would have to listen to me; and the fact that I obviously hadn’t been eloquent enough I saw as some kind of failure on my part.’ Anderson’s coping strategy, she writes, was not mentioning it; assuming others couldn’t notice. Amazingly, Sarah was 19 before she asked her parents, “What happened to my arm?” The central strand of Halfway to Venus narrates her experiences whilst growing up, and also career-wise and relationship-wise – from the travel bookshop which proved inspiration for Notting Hill to potential ‘acrotomophiles’, who are attracted to ‘amputees’. In fact, much of Anderson’s examination is not herself, but others – a refrain throughout is that other people are the major issue; trying to anticipate their reactions, but resenting having to be the one to smooth things along.