Sian Prior has had a very public persona as a broadcaster, journalist and singer so it was a surprise to me that she describes herself as having always been shy. In this memoir she distinguishes between Shy Sian (fleeing from a party with clammy hands) and Professional Sian (who can be calm, confident and chatty when required). She describes a constant battle between two elements of her personality: Look at Me/Don't Look at Me. She speculates that this is the difference between the shy and the introverted. Introverts are quite happy not to be looked at and content with their own company, whereas the shy crave social attention but are terrified of asking for it.
Prior was already working on Shy when 'Tom,' her partner of ten years, unexpectedly broke up with her. This event gives the memoir a raw, agonising immediacy, and it's as much a story of grief and loss as it is a tale of shyness. Horrible for Prior, but Shy is probably a better book as a result. It's also interesting to juxtapose this loss with the death of Prior's father when she was an infant, and the ripple effects of this early absence on the rest of her life. (Prior doesn't name 'Tom' in the book, but it's easy enough to find out his identity.)
Shy is part memoir, part meditation, part psychological exploration of social anxiety. Next time I'm forced to make small talk with people I don't know, I'll remember that something like 40% of people describe themselves as shy. Maybe it's just as excruciating for them as it is for me!