Marion Milner’s industrious, enquiring and inspiringly lively mind kept going until her death in 1998. Bothered by Alligators is a sometimes moving addition to her unique autobiographical works, infused with her long fascination with the visual arts and her own artistry. Diary-keeping clearly remained vital to her since the inspiration of her first book, A life of One’s Own in 1934. It also seems to be a final act of motherly love, and perhaps reparation.

This final published work began at 90 years old, when Milner stumbled across a diary she had kept during the early years of her son John’s life. It recorded some conversations he had with his care-givers, questions he had begun to ask, along with observations and notes about his play between the ages of 2 and 9. Not yet a trained psychoanalyst, she resisted at the time from making interpretations, and this text is delightfully straightforward. She also found a storybook written and illustrated by John at school, when he was about 7. This gift to her by him, seems only to have been fully appreciated some decades later, with regret she confesses to.

These two sources form the basis of the book, before she goes on with explorations of meaning of the story-book. This section of the book is a complex one. She writes as if thinking aloud at times, an impressive thinking for one so old, although it can be quite hard work to follow. Here, she does derive ideas from Freud, with a focus on J’s relationships with his body and his parents, with the repeated appearance of the Oedipus Complex.

While thinking about John’s unconscious communications, Milner began to notice how a number of issues were awakening in her that she hadn’t addressed in her life.These included aspects of her relationships not only with John, but her ex-husband, her father and, in particular, her own mother. The final chapters of the book break down in theme, a collection of last thoughts perhaps. A chapter on her analysis with Winnicott is particularly gripping, not least for the curious therapeutic boundaries they he and Milner worked with.

Of course there is a deeply personal quality to Bothered by Alligators, and knowing very little about Milner before I read this, I warmed enormously to this. Anyone interested in Milner, diary-keeping or autobiography, psychoanalysis or even motherhood should reap something this book.


(This appears in the Private Practice Journal)