The In­cest Di­ary

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

The ma­jor prob­lem with this book — we’ ll come to the mi­nor ones later — is that the reader who would like it best is a pae­dophile. I don’t know much about the read­ing habits of pae­dophiles. Do they ever take time out from view­ing im­ages of chil­dren from south-east Asia who are per­form­ing acts from some grotesque menu of car­nal­ity to sat­isfy Western male per­ver­sions? Do mon­sters read at all?

What I do know is that if a pae­dophile hap­pened to read The In­cest Di­ary, he would find much to de­light and re­as­sure him. It’s not just the bru­tally ex­plicit sex be­tween a fa­ther and his daugh­ter, be­gin­ning when she is still a tod­dler and con­tin­u­ing into her 20s; it’s the fact that the girl en­joys the sex, and comes, in fact, to crave and even ini­ti­ate it.

“A child can’t es­cape,” the Amer­i­can au­thor ex­plains. “And later, when I could, it was too late. My fa­ther con­trolled my mind, my body, my de­sire. I wanted him. I went home. I went back for more.”

This is the classic pae­dophile fan­tasy. The young vic­tim is not co­erced or ter­ri­fied but a will­ing part­ner. Any book that even partly en­dorses that warped view is danger­ous. A book that con­tains words like: “My fa­ther is my se­cret. That he raped me is my se­cret. But the se­cret un­der the MEM­OIR Anony­mous

Blooms­bury, hard­back, 144 pages, €14.99 se­cret is that some­times I liked it. Some­times I se­duced him.” (Does that ring a bell? “I’m going to tell you some­thing very strange: it was she who se­duced me.” So says Hum­bert Hum­bert of the teenage Lolita.)

Blooms­bury, pub­lisher of The In­cest Di­ary, is well aware of the se­ri­ous charges that can be lev­elled against it. In a pre-emp­tive note, pub­lish­ing di­rec­tor Alexis Kirschbaum ad­mits that it’s very un­com­fort­able when a mem­oir of abuse turns out to be “a chron­i­cle of plea­sure”. You can say that again. Some­how, Kirschbaum man­aged to over­come her un­ease. Noth­ing to do with the fact that “the most shock­ing book of the year” would make head­lines and sell a shed­load of copies?

Of course not. You see, The In­cest Di­ary is not just any old mucky, pruri­ent book: “It raises com­plex is­sues about art, free­dom, con­sent.” It comes pack­aged in a taste­ful beige cover, like a slim vol­ume of dif­fi­cult po­etry, to prove that it’s not sala­cious or seek­ing no­to­ri­ety. Heaven for­bid! As for the style, it is, ac­cord­ing to Kirschbaum: “Sparse, po­etic, vi­o­lent, to­tally with­out prece­dent... We have dis­cov­ered not just a coura­geous writer, but a gifted one, and her ac­count left me in awe.”

Awe is not the first word I would choose. Dis­gust would be right up there, along with doubt. Con­ve­niently, the au­thor, be­lieved to be a pub­lished writer in her for­ties, chooses not to be iden­ti­fied. “I have changed many specifics,” she ad­mits. “But I have not al­tered the es­sen­tials. I ask the reader to re­spect my wish to re­main anony­mous.”

Why should we? If you are mak­ing claims as ex­plo­sive as these, you de­serve to be chal­lenged. At the risk of ru­in­ing read­ers’ elevenses, I won­der how Anony­mous would ex­plain the fact that she was raped as a three-year-old with­out sus­tain­ing any in­juries? If you did a 10th of the vile things de­scribed in this book to a grown woman, let alone a small child, she would end up bleed­ing, with a uri­nary tract in­fec­tion, and would need an­tibi­otics and an al­most cer­tain stint in hospi­tal.

No such pesky prac­ti­cal­i­ties in­trude on these pages. The writ­ing is not the raw, un­cooked style we have grown used to in mis­ery mem­oirs — it is ex­tremely art­ful. Anony­mous, who I’m guess­ing has done a masters in cre­ative writ­ing, adopts a de­lib­er­ately un­f­reaked-out style to de­scribe the most freak­ing-out things you can pos­si­bly imag­ine.

There is noth­ing wrong with writ­ing about in­cest. It’s a peren­nial sub­ject be­cause the po­ten­tial for love to be warped and soured within the fam­ily will never go away.

Ian McEwan’s The Ce­ment Gar­den dealt with sex among sib­lings in a mi­nor mas­ter­piece of moral and phys­i­cal claus­tro­pho­bia. It was star­tling, but never gra­tu­itous. Some 20 years ago, Kathryn Har­ri­son pro­duced The Kiss, a stun­ning mem­oir about her ob­ses­sive re­la­tion­ship, as a col­lege stu­dent, with her es­tranged fa­ther,

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