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An opportunity missed
on 18 July 2014
Unforgivable is tough reading from the start opening, as it does, with a small child sexually and physically abused and surrounded by adults she can’t trust as those she tries to tell, take advantage. But unfortunately, its straightforward linear narrative lets the book down terribly. This isn’t all the fault of the author, Collette, who was assisted by ghost writer Douglas Wight (absolutely fair enough), who one might reasonably expect to help her lift the book beyond a diary of abuse to something more.
Too many chapters end on poor attempts at cliffhangers: ‘Once again, I was on my own with Mother’, ‘I wasn’t out of the woods yet. More misery was lurking just around the corner’, ‘I would soon be facing a new terror’, ‘When would this torture end?’, ‘Little did I know that I was going to see them again, and very soon’, ‘Finally, I thought, I had a passport out of this misery. I couldn’t have been more wrong’, ‘I told myself things could only get better. They couldn’t get any worse, could they?’, ‘There was no way Mother was going to hurt me or have control over me again … or so I thought’ or ‘my life threatened to spiral out of control’.
The sad truth is that for the period of the book Collette is never in control. Thankfully for her, the cliffhangers don’t deliver greater and greater depravity, but rather more variety. As we settle in this becomes a little repetitious and familiarity causes us to harden our hearts.
Other reviewers have mentioned their frustration with a victim who not only refuses opportunities to escape, but continually returns to her abuser. Perhaps worse, Collette leaves her own children with that abuser even after witnessing her ‘mentally torturing’ one of them. Our reaction is harsh, but understandable because Collette’s behaviour – and that of her abusers – is not easily understood. We wonder how anybody can be so lacking the ability to self-reflect. It all demands explanation.
Her therapist encouraged Collette to obtain a huge bundle of documents via a subject access request (erroneously called a freedom of information request in the book) to Birmingham City Council. This not only revealed just how much social services knew but also that her schools, her family and her neighbours all knew about the abuse too. All was diligently logged, many case conferences were held behind closed doors, yet nothing was done. Behaviour as mystifying, on reflection, as Collette’s own.
Had Collette been assisted by someone with a background in psychology, rather than tabloid journalism, perhaps we would have been gifted a deeper book that would at least attempt to answer the questions that plague us. We are only told in passing that Collette did eventually gain access to therapy and that it helped her. We don't know how it enabled her to open her mind and learn to cope with her abusive past.