Brazier. C. (2009). Guilt: An exploration. Hants:O-Books
Guilt is a mesmerizing read; a fictional story unobtrusively interspersed with an observational commentary, exploring the layers of guilt being built up within the psyche of the characters.
Written from the perspective of an initially 10 year old Joanne, the reader is taken on a journey alongside her, observing aspects of her life as she grows up in the 1960s in a London suburb. Here we are privy to both her and her friends shared world away from the confines of parents, roaming the streets and entering forbidden places, as well as to the hidden secrets of their individual worlds. The group of children, seeking an away from home base and stretching the boundaries of their freedom, find an old scrap yard to play in. They end up befriending the group of men who work there, stepping into relationship with these adults and their world that they know to be deeply disallowed by their parents. Yet this very same edge of danger and its conflict with their unfolding happy reality intrigues them and entices them to return again and again. As they enter further into the unguarded adult world they find there, areas of darkness are encountered and important and life changing choices are made. As the story unfolds their turbulent personal experiences of relationship, conflicts of loyalties and expectations, boundaries and fears are gently uncovered. Through the eyes of Joanne we see a child's understanding of and sensitivity to the others in her world, alongside an internal struggle with a maturing self. The later part of the book turns to a retrospective view of her childhood from Joanne as an adult and to a differing insight that only maturity and distance can give. Here she contemplates both the ghosts and realities of her past, facing the anguish of her feelings of guilt, and finally connecting with both a deep regret and the beginnings of acceptance.
This fictional narrative, unfolding all too familiar scenarios of childhood and its anxieties, immediately enables the reader to relate to and thus easily access their own felt sense of guilt and its experienced development. Themes of guilt are explored throughout the story within the lives of the children; fears, conflicts with parental rules, moral dilemmas and sexuality, as are the emotions that are often related to guilt such as shame, embarrassment, jealousy and regret.
The commentary brings the compassion of Buddhism to this exploratory journey, showing non-judgemental observation of guilt and understanding of how it becomes woven into the fabric of our being by the numerous complex threads of fears, loyalties, conflicts and secrets. Here also guilt is normalised, seen as sometimes an inevitable part of life as we do make mistakes. Ultimately, by the end of the story, holding a cleaner and less contaminated relationship with guilt is explored, acknowledging it as a truthful reality that we can indeed be guilty through circumstance, and bringing it away from the illustrated confusion of an emotionally experienced guilt based on our fears of others and our own expectations. The commentary accompanies the reader to find clarity in this aspect, untangling from where such senses of guilt arise throughout layer upon layer of related emotions. Here also is expressed the sense -and Buddhist psychotherapeutic teaching- that facing ones emotions brings relief and freedom from their hold.
This book explores guilt in a truly felt sense, using an emotive story line to bring the reader directly into a felt understanding whilst the narrative gently guides to a deeper understanding.
A thoroughly gripping and enlightening read.