Girl A by Abigail Dean

‘You don’t know me, but you’ve seen my face.’

Alexandra Gracie, now a successful lawyer based in New York, tries to keep her family in the background.  As ‘Girl A’, she is the one who escaped her family home, the ‘House of Horrors’, where she and her siblings were neglected and abused.  But the death of her mother in prison requires Alexandra to return to the UK to deal with her mother’s estate.

As I read this novel, I was overwhelmed by questions about how abuse victims can be invisible for so long and what drives people to become abusers.  I thought that Ms Dean managed a fine balance in the novel.  She was able to convey the impact of abuse without an overload of graphic detail. For me, the central question became: how do children who survive such horrific abuse function as adults?  There were once seven siblings.  Those who survived have difficult relationships with themselves, with each other and with outsiders.  To face the future, Alexandra must revisit the past. She also needs to negotiate with her siblings.  Will they agree to her plan for the family home?  I think that Ms Dean has created a masterpiece peopled with well-developed characters.   It is difficult to read and unbearably sad in places.  I finished the novel, hoping for a better future but knowing that the past will always be present.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith