Britney Spears holds nothing back in her short, bittersweet and extremely powerful memoir. Once America’s teen pop princess, she reveals that she was drinking, smoking and having sex by the time she was 14. She went through a horrific home abortion at the behest of fellow teen-pop idol Justin Timberlake, bent over a toilet bowl howling without anaesthesia, and in so much pain she thought she was going to die, while Timberlake tried to comfort her by strumming some acoustic guitar. 

The somewhat vainglorious Timberlake doesn’t even come across as the worst man in her life. Spears writes that she has been taken advantage of by narcissistic self-serving boyfriends, hounded by paparazzi, and (she alleges) ruthlessly exploited by her father Jamie while the male-dominated music business and even her own family turned a blind eye to her suffering.

The real story of The Woman In Me is how Spears has survived an experience that she specifically likens to a witch-trial – a form of gaslighting through which women have been going for centuries – when signs of independence, eccentricity and creativity, not to mention anger and depression at their own powerlessness, are interpreted as mental illness, and used as an excuse to lock them away and control their lives. This is the forensically convincing account of the madwoman in the attic of pop. And it is not pretty.

Spears shoots her parents down cold on the opening page: “When I was growing up, my mother and father fought constantly. He was an alcoholic. I was usually scared at home.” Her family life is tainted by Jamie’s alcoholism and bankruptcies, and her mother Lynne’s screaming rages. As a people-pleasing child performer – she appeared in theatrical musicals and TV’s The Mickey Mouse Club before achieving pop stardom – Britney becomes the main breadwinner at an early age. For her, music is an almost spiritual escape, the place where she can be most creatively herself. She buys her family a new home, and pays off her father’s debts.

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