I readily admit to being wary of books -especially memoirs- that deal with “current issues”, because they tend to be written very much for the zeitgeist. However, I was attracted to this book not only by the succinct, apposite title, but also because one of my colleagues was stalked a number of years ago. I don’t know if an employer would take the same approach today, but all the staff on our floor of a large university department, were aware of the possible incursion of the stalker and security was stepped up accordingly, for a long period of time. I don’t remember how my colleague’s story ends, but that’s part of the chilling intrusion of the stalker: nobody is never really sure whether it’s over for good or just in abeyance.
I glanced at the bio of the writer- Ellis Gunn- and saw that she was a poet from Scotland, with work anthologized in “100 Favourite Scottish Poems” and “Modern Scottish Women Poets”. Expecting, then, a book set in Scotland, I was a bit startled when she spoke of the rainbow lorikeets and noisy miners in the park, until I realized that she has emigrated to Australia and the book is set here. She met “The Man” at an auction, in just a fleeting interaction that she thought nothing of, until she kept running into him- or rather, he into her. He began contacting her online (although she had not given him her details) and in the tense conversations she had with him – too polite to tell him to p*** off- he let her know that he knew where she lived. She received a sympathetic response from the police, but soon realized that stalking in itself was not ‘enough’ for the police to act, and any complaints or charges from interstate were invisible to the South Australian police.
The book has 18 chapters, each headed with titles like “Back to the beginning: the first time I met The Man” or “Things I do to stay sane”. There is a regular format to each chapter, each denoted by a different font. She starts each chapter with the story of the stalking, or research that she has conducted into stalking; she then moves to her earlier memories of previous stalking, inappropriate sexual violence, rape, or violence; and then finished with an italicized list of “becauses”, similar to a rap poem. The book is firmly within the “me too” genre, and I found myself mentally thinking “me too” with several scenarios. I’m sure that most (nearly all?) women would recognize themselves here, embarrassed and shamed but too polite, intimidated or uncertain to speak up. But it’s more than just one woman’s story which, in less assured hands, could come over as a form of ‘trauma porn’. Instead it is a research report, a guide for women who are being stalked, a polemic about how things have to change, and an exemplar that demonstrates how her cognitive based therapy helps her to quell her panic by giving her clear steps to follow.
However, I found myself stunned by a single sentence near the end where she discussed health responses to the stress of stalking.
As I came to the end of writing this book, I received a further devastating diagnosis: stage 4 cancer, a rare and aggressive kind that is likely to kill me in the next couple of yearsp.211
This statement seemed to come from nowhere, and was just put out there, and not picked up at all. Perhaps she felt she had to include it, in fidelity to the memoir genre that she has used to structure her book. Nonetheless, it was startling. I had to go back once I had finished the book, to see whether I really had read it, or just imagined it.
The stalking does have a resolution in this book, seemingly unrelated to this cancer diagnosis. And perhaps the wider resolution for all of us comes in a conversation with her young son where you think – you hope- that perhaps things might change, and that the sense of entitlement and self-importance that drives men to stalk, and the hesitation and politeness that keeps women silent might, just might, come to an end.
My rating: 7
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library