‘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.

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7 responses to “‘Memoirs of a Suburban Girl’ by Deb Kandelaars

  1. I remember Lisa’s compelling review. This book is definitely on the radar. I’d have to pick a time when I was up for it though. Now isn’t that time, but I do want to read it.

  2. Excellent review, but the book sounds too confronting for me.

  3. Hello Janine, I’m so glad it had that impact on you, even if it was confronting. I’ll never forget discovering that a neighbour across the road had spent the night sitting on the doorstep with her two little ones, and that she had not come across the road to me to ask for shelter. I was so ashamed that she felt she could not wake me in the middle of the night. All of us need to be alert for the signs, and as women, to let other women know that we are there for them if they need it.

  4. The subject sounds good. It is not something that is normally written about. The whole wider subject of why people stay with abusive partners needs more of public profile. To people who say, just leave, really don’t understand.

  5. Sounds fascinating – will put it on the to read list. Just not sure when. Could be a hell of a rollercoaster. Definitely a daytime rather than night time read I’m guessing. People know this stuff is going on around them but feel powerless to help or interfere. It’s the sort of thing that breeds powerlessness.

  6. Pingback: Australian Women’s Writing Challenge | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

  7. Pingback: 2012 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Crime, Mystery, Thriller and Suspense « Australian Women Writers Challenge

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