‘The Only Girl in the World’ by Maude Julien


2017, 256 p Translated from French

Spoiler alert

I felt uncomfortable and voyeuristic reading this book, but I couldn’t put it down either.  It’s the way I felt when reading 3096 Days by kidnap victim Natascha Kampusch too (see my review here) where I wanted to honour the teller and the telling, but still felt rather grubbied by my own interest in the story.

You can read an extract from the start of Julien’s book here.

Maude Julien starts her story at only three years of age, when her father bought a house between Lille and Dunkirk and withdrew there, with his wife and daughter. As the gate slams shut, her father Louis Didier, already an older father (59 years old) turns his attention to his daughter, who he is determined to turn into a ‘superior being’ to ‘raise up humanity’. In his tangled, esoteric, Freemason-oriented world view, Maude was  one of the Initiates, the Beings of Light, whose temporal power was headed by the Queen and the Pope. She needed to be strengthened for the trials to come, through a combination of seclusion, extreme training and physical and emotional abuse.

What power parents have! Maude strains for the slightest brush of human contact, in spite of the physical and emotional violence both parents exert on her.  Her mother Jeannine, who had been ‘purchased’ as a child by Louis, educated and then scheduled to give birth to a child for him to program, is arguably just as much a victim as Maude is. However, in the arbitrary and stringent world within the fences of the Didier house (one could not call it a ‘home’), it was dangerous to trust anyone because it could be used against you: the exact lesson that Louis Didier wanted his daughter to learn.  Maude was sexually abused – not, as you might suspect by her father – and her mother witnessed it and did nothing.  Fear seeps through this book.  As a reader, you fear for the animals she loves; you fear for her as she turns on her own body as a way of keeping her own control. You fear for her mind as she turns to fictional characters as friends.

Her father is inscrutable. He is clearly obsessed with Hitler, but wants her to be able to resist the atrocities that Hitler unleashed.  He is obsessed with the orchestra that played at the concentration camps, and is determined that she will learn every instrument, so that she can be saved. He sees danger everywhere, and instills that danger into his daughter, as a way of keeping control over her.

You expect a rupture: a crime, a rescue- anything to make it stop which, as the book is written as a memoir you know it will.  It doesn’t come in the way you anticipate.  Instead, she makes her physical and emotional escape through the training that her father himself has instigated.  You can’t help but feel relieved at her resilience and recovery, but also, rather deadened by the flatness of the telling.

This book has been variously  described as ‘inspirational’, ‘uplifting’ and ‘triumphant’. I don’t know that I felt that it was any of those things. I am left more harrowed than uplifted.

Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Unable to rate.


4 responses to “‘The Only Girl in the World’ by Maude Julien

  1. No, I don’t want to read books like this, even though I realise that it is possibly therapeutic for the author to have written it…

  2. I agree with Lisa. But good on you for seeing it through to the end. I wonder if Julien feels validation through being read.

    • I was reading an article in today’s Age about a ‘new’ treatment for PTSD where, as well as taking a drug, the sufferer writes a present tense narrative, from start to finish, that is read over again and brought up to the present moment. I wonder if, in writing a narrative like this, which does bring her to somewhere safe and empowered, whether a similar mechanism is at work (albeit without the drugs). Writing a book, and editting it and doing the publicity circuit must induce some sense of distance, surely?

  3. We’re disagreeing over the dinner table. I think getting it off your chest helps, she says writing/publishing depersonalises the experience and helps the sufferer gain distance. I know people who carry old traumas and it’s debilitating, so you would hope something works.

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