Alice Sebold

This is the first of a series I’m writing to recommend some literary gems and authors I’ve loved. If I can help other readers find some new ‘old’ books, I’ll be repaying some of my debt to writers. Find them!

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‘When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.’ So begins Alice Sebold’s novel  The Almost Moon.

Known for her more famous book, The Lovely Bones, Sebold writes from the dark side. We know it because we’ve been there too, even if we push it away, under the rug. It lurks and she gives it a voice that we understand. Suburbia, neighbourhood watch, dogs. Dementia, suicide, fear.

And life goes on amid the desperation. It’s all so normal. Consequences are weighed and considered by the characters as they enter, stage right through the domestic sets of bathrooms, carpeted stairs, basements. Burger King carparks, Life Drawing Classes at the Senior Center. We’ve been there.

I read recently that most women go through life trying to live up to their mother’s expectations. Who can say whether they’re real, or deluded? The expectations and the attempts, or lack of. ‘You’re throwing your life away, you know that? Pissing it down your leg.’

Harsh.

It’s one of those books which crowds your head as you read, each sentence and page turned clamping down a little tighter on the options. How is this going to end? It’s not a thriller, not a whodunit. It’s being painted into a corner.

Her book Lucky is the real account of her rape in her first year at college and living through the days and weeks and months that followed. She’s lucky that she’s not dead, like another girl, killed in that same tunnel. Her life did not end among the dead leaves and broken beer bottles.

Her recounting the events over and over stays with me. When her father, many months afterwards realises that the rapist had dropped his knife, Alice can see him thinking ‘Why couldn’t she get away…?’ So simply, she evokes the burden felt again and again of lifting away that weight, the dead weight of her not struggling hard enough, of granting a permission of sorts.

Other people’s fear or sympathy, or pity, worse by far, were harder that the clinical policing, the courtroom proceedings with their rules and patterns. People knew their roles and played their parts, there.

Don’t be put off by Sebold’s grim landscapes. Her voice is clear and her prose fluent. Like an origami artist, she folds her story deftly, one crease after another, edges sharp, until it becomes the crane, standing upright.

Why go there? Ask yourself that the next time you read a crime story, or watch a murder, or a rape on some screen. Saturated with violence already, this lucid recounting of its impact is a gift.

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