Daily Archives: March 21, 2012

‘Memoirs of a Suburban Girl’ by Deb Kandelaars

158 p. 2011

I’m glad that this book only had 158 pages.  I really don’t think that I could have read any more.  As it was, I started reading it and turned off the light about 50 pages in.  I found that I was too anxious and troubled by it to sleep, so I turned the light back on and kept on reading until about 1.00 a.m. in the morning.

The book is set in 1979, and a teenage girl moves in with a violent older man, whom she calls S. B. (short for Spunky Boy) throughout, even though he turns out to be anything but.  She is only seventeen when she meets him, and she seems to encased in a nightmare world with this abusive, manipulative man, frightened and unwilling to take the first steps towards leaving him.

The book is written in the second person present tense, which I always find a rather claustrophobic, controlling narrative voice.  In this case, it is a risk.  There was a decision point at the very first episode of abuse at which many readers may have acted differently, and to continue to be addressed as “you” makes you feel somehow complicit and responsible for a decision that you might not have made.   I understand that she is making the point that it could be you, but maybe not.  There are choices here, even in the inability to make a choice.  The narrative is highpitched and breathless, and somehow garbled- as if it is falling out of her.

One of the most unsettling aspects of the book is its low-key suburban setting. There are neighbours, workmates, onlookers surely, who witness the violence in the car, in carparks, and who see the bruises and hear the excuses.  Yet somehow she seems to be isolated in her own parallel existence, with assistance from the few friends she manages to have, or her own parents,  visible, but just out of her reach.  She captures the late 70s and early 80s well in all their garishness.

It is a work of fiction, based on the author’s own experience.  It is presented as a memoir, and there are other memories coiled up in the telling.  In the middle of a beating, almost as a form of dissociation, her older and happier memories unspool, until she and you are jerked back into the grubby reality of her situation.

Should you read it? Yes, you should.  Will you like it? I don’t know. Did I like it? I don’t know. I couldn’t put it down- does that make it a good book?

Sourced from:Yarra Plenty Regional Library (who kindly bought it on on my suggestion!)

Read because:  It was highly recommended by Lisa at ANZLitLovers LitBlog

I’m reviewing this for the Australian Womens Writing Challenge 2012. It’s not too late to join, you know.