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Novel set across England

21st January 2021

Girl A by Abigail Dean, novel set across England.

Utterly unputdownable, insanely gripping – Marian Keyes

Harrowing but beautiful and surprising – Adele Parks

An astonishing achievement – Jessie Burton

I remember when someone passed me a copy of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, I knew then that story telling, with a dark heart, had gone up a notch. Girl A joins the realms.

At the heart of the story is Girl A – Alexandra or Lex – who was a member of the Gracie family who lived in a house on Moor Woods Road for much of her childhood and early adolescence. She was one of many children sired by Mother and Father and they were all, differently, subjected to considerable abuse by their Father, with the passive collusion of their Mother. We have all seen stories like this in the newspaper, Josef Fritzl in Austria who abused his daughter and sired several children with her, David and Louise Turpin held their children captive in California, Natascha Kampusch held prisoner from the age of 10 for 8 years in Germany. It really does happen.

The story largely comprises Lex’s reflections and memories of the childhood environment from her perspective now as a New York based lawyer. Their father is dead and their mother has just died in prison and therefore we know that some justice has been meted out.

Their family home has been bequeathed to the children and new plans are afoot to turn it into a community centre. It is thought that might in some redress some of the ill that took place there. It seems the only equitable solution for what is dubbed the house of horrors. For this to happen, Lex needs the signatures of all the children and that is the underlying storyline, how Lex comes to terms with her innumerable siblings whilst seeking their authority to turn the house into a force for good.

The structure of the novel is quite unusual. It can at times feel like a stream of consciousness as it slides between then and now, much like sucking on a toffee which you slide around your mouth and which occasionally gets stuck, which in turn feels quite jarring. Indeed it is a gruesomely well imagined house, where the children are held, sometimes in chains. Other people peer in, observe the house’s disorder, see the children covered in dirt but they never seem to take action.

Now, all these years later, there is still a mawkish public interest in what happened to the children. as it was such a large news item that has continued to resonate with readers.

The construct very much reflects the disjointed experience of the children, occasionally I felt disorientated and had to focus on where the narrative was going. This isn’t hard work, it is simply mirroring the experience of the children.

Yes, at times it feels like quite a brutal story but it is a powerful one that is so much more. How do people survive this? What are the dynamics between the remaining children, now adults? In part there is redemption because they have moved into adulthood with a huge amount of support, and yet there are still inevitable gaps – theirs was a childhood about as far from normal as it could have been. One character observes how they still seem starved (of emotion) yet their rehabilitation for the most part is quite amazing.

This is a novel you will choose for the story, not the location.

A stirring book that will stay with me. And, one to watch in 2021.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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