Book Review: A Real Piece of Work is a collection of short essays that explores queer and marginalised experiences

  • Lyndon Bower
  • August 25, 2023
  • Comments Off on Book Review: A Real Piece of Work is a collection of short essays that explores queer and marginalised experiences

A Real Piece of Work

A Real Piece of Work, the new memoir from Erin Riley, brings light to disadvantaged and marginalised communities.

Riley works with marginalised and disadvantaged people as a social worker in Sydney. In their memoir, a collection of twenty essays, Riley shares their personal experiences of social boundaries. Discussions of justice, family, love, intimacy, power structures, and oppression are core themes throughout the book. While reading the book, you will experience a wide range of emotions from pain, empathy, and at times, you may even feel a little soul crushed. But, you will also find yourself laughing and feel a sense of achievement for Riley and their clients.

While Riley cares for their clients, they must combat and deal with a struggling system that continues to oppress them. When talking about their clients, pseudonyms are used to disguise identities, but also to combine stories due to shared experiences, with  many of Riley’s clients in community age care or struggling with mental and physical health. However, Riley’s clients are not the only ones that are fighting their own oppression.

Throughout the book Riley talks of their own experiences and struggles with mental health and body dysmorphia. Early on, Riley reveals they combatted obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety throughout their childhood and adult life, and spoke about how it affected them and how they overcame these challenges.

I personally enjoyed the way Riley spoke about these struggles, whilst also bringing in their own research. This research not only rationalises their own thinking, but also helps explain why it happens to them, and to others. A Real Piece of Work is not a self-help book, but reading Riley’s experiences and research invites you to reflect upon your own.

Riley also discusses their family relationships and the many roles that their family play in their life, with many of them not being “healthy” or “traditional.” Reflecting on these relationships in the book, Riley recognises that one of their most complicated relationships is the one that they have with their mother. The complications, Riley reflects, stemmed from Riley’s identity, and how they were expected to couch her, and deal with her oversharing and overstepping of parental boundaries. Riley also explores the topic of “mother wounds.” Due to Riley’s relationship with their mother, at times, it was a section I found  quite confronting.

Riley describes their relationship with their parents as moving further away as they age. Not because of any physical distance, but rather an emotional one. Riley found themselves misunderstood, and desperately wanting, but unable, to be their own authentic self around their parents. It is a common experience between queer children and their parents, and one which is explored further in the book. Riley also explores the concept of parental boundaries, and how children are not responsible for saving their parents or families. But, rather that is the job of the parents, or senior members of the family’s job to do themselves.

Sport, physical activity, and health is also brought up quite a bit throughout A Real Piece of Work, especially in relation to its links with mental health. Though as someone who doesn’t lead an as physically intensive life as Riley, I found my interest in these sections was as not as piqued in comparison to the book’s other topics of discussion.

A Real Piece of Work brings light to many aspects of life experienced by marginalised communities, such as the realities of the hardships that those living in the age care or disability sectors face, both in and out of care. I appreciated the way that Riley handled the experiences described and discussed throughout the book; not only their own experiences, but also those of others, and used them to shine light on issues that are so often forgotten about or ignored. A Real Piece of Work doesn’t just focus on the ugly, but the beauty that is often hidden away from the public. A process that you will go through while reading this collection of essays.

A Real Piece of Work


Erin Riley’s A Real Piece of Work is available now from Penguin Books Australia. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.

Lyndon Bower

Lyndon is from Tasmania who is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts in English, Writing and Classics. His favourite books to read are retellings, thrillers, and coming of age.