Author Topic: Girl A/ fictional misery porn  (Read 1548 times)

Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« on: February 15, 2021, 12:30:31 PM »
This isn't the kind of book I normally read but I'm trying not to drink at the moment so wanted something a bit trashy to take my mind off wine. It's been getting tons of great reviews and apparently the rights sold for loads of money and all that. It's predicted to be huge which is why I'm giving it it's own thread rather than a cursory mention in one of the increasing number of list threads.

Anyway, it's about a girl who had a horrific childhood partly spent shackled to a bed in a filthy room with her younger sister. The book starts with an account of the girl escaping from the house and being taken to a hospital and her and her numerous siblings subsequently being adopted by separate families. It then moves to the present where the girl's mum has died in prison leaving girl A as the executor of her will. The book has two strands, one that delves in to the back story of how the parents came to hold their children captive and another that follows Girl A's attempts to meet with her siblings and get them to agree to turning he old house in to a community centre.

Parts of the book are quite good. I particularly enjoyed the passages about the father's doomed attempts to start a church and his dealings with some dodgy preacher. The odd things is that I felt really uneasy at the end of the book. There are two events that are just so grim and it's basically fictional misery porn written by an extremely privileged woman (the author is a lawyer for google). I've not really felt like this after reading a book before, that sense of an author not really having earned the right to depict such horror (that's not really worded right). I think it may be unfair of me, and she certainly writes with empathy and warmth about the characters but there's one bit where a brother holds down the younger brother whilst the dad rapes him that made me dislike the book so much, especially as that incident understandably turns him in to a damaged character. The author has stated she took the whole summer off for her lawyer job and spent time researching cases where parents held their children captive, and then wrote this and it make me a bit angry. I'm a bit confused as to why I feel like this about it though.

Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #1 on: February 15, 2021, 01:15:30 PM »
I don't know if it's just that the author hadn't earned the right.The child abuse in Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose (I only read Book 1)gave me a very similarly awkward feeling- why am I reading this? what's the contract here between me and the writer? is this book using the concept of child abuse as a kind of entertainment? Is that alright? -But St. Aubyn really was abused by his father.

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2021, 04:26:56 PM »
Is this sort of thing having a revival? I remember there being a bit of a glut of this kind of book maybe 10 years back, after the success of some real-life misery memoir led to a small industry of fiction about child abuse/spousal rape/general desolation.

I felt a bit like this after the adaptation of Precious[1] - when I heard it was about a girl who is impregnated by her dad and later discovers she has AIDS but fights to earn herself an education and agency I thought, "Christ, that's horrible but inspirational." Then I realised it was fiction[2] and felt a bit uneasy. But the author was also abused by her dad as a child, and wrote the book specifically to highlight the problems that poor black women - who aren't usually addressed within literary circles.

I think her background kind of opens the door for her to write fiction about this, especially when she's doing it with the specific purpose of bringing these problems to light. A novel is going to reach more hearts and minds than a documentary, and certainly a nonfiction book, after all[3] and her own personal life wouldn't have been able to address all of the other issues she raised in the book, because Precious' life diverges too much from her own.

I don't usually put much stock in the idea that a novelist must have had the exact experiences as the protagonist to "earn" their chance to write about it, but there is something so grim about child abuse that the notion of someone who didn't experience it themselves writing fiction about it for - essentially - the entertainment of others who weren't abused just seems wrong. That Abigail Dean is a well-paid tech CEO makes it even worse, somehow. She's already swimming in privilege, what makes her want to take a summer off wading through some of the most miserable stories known to man just to recreate them in fictional form for the entertainment of others?

Partly, I suppose, my reaction is based on the centrality of abuse to the story. According to Wikipedia, Dean says she wanted to "focus on the effects of trauma and the media glare, rather than the suffering which triggers them", which makes it seem slightly more palatable, although it's a rather more abstract, privileged concern than the aim of Precious to spread the word about the ignored abuse of black girls.

Still, the selling point is that it's about a girl who was abused dealing with the trauma of that abuse. That makes me uneasy. Whereas Denise Mina's fantastic crime thriller Garnethill has a heroine who was also abused by her father, but the focus is on her investigating a present-day rapist, and that didn't bother me at all. Perhaps because abuse was in service to a mystery/thriller plot? But really, shouldn't that be more offensive, using real trauma as a plot device? The book is great though.

The other thing playing in this is probably the way we approach abuse in modern society, and the taboo nature we place on even discussing it. I'll happily consume stories about murder without blinking, and isn't being killed even worse?

Sorry, I'm not sure what my point is. I think I might be a cunt, though.
 1. Based On The Novel "Push" By Sapphire
 2. Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire, in fact.
 3. Yes, I know A Child Called "It" sold tons in the 1990s, that's the exception that proves the rule - and he never did explain how he turned into a clown that eats children.

Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2021, 10:04:41 PM »
Nah, you're not a cunt. I agree with what you and Astronaut Omens say and I wish I'd phrased my line about the author 'earning the right'.

I think Dean is lying to herself when she says she's writing about "the effects of trauma rather than the suffering which triggers them". The victim of the rape had already had a chapter depicting the terrible physical and mental (suicidal) state he is in following whatever happened at the house but it's only in the final few pages when it becomes apparent that he was raped by the father (and his brother held him down) and the disclosure (by one of his other sisters) is clearly meant to be some big dramatic shocking moment, possibly with one eye on the inevitable cinema adaptation, and the fact it happens at a big beautiful wedding on a Greek island where Girl A (by now a high-flying lawyer, hmmm) is wearing her beautiful pink suit make it even more unpleasant (and I think is one of the reasons why I'm not liking the author for it ).


I do wonder if one of the reasons I was so appalled was that it was a father raping his son. There's a bit later on, also as part of the dramatic finale, where the father rapes Girl A but it didn't make me feel the same way as the one on the son. Maybe it was because Gabriel was consistently portrayed as a victim anyway, whereas Girl A was narrating. It could be because the assault on Gabriel came as more of a shock. Maybe women reading this would give a slow hand clap and ask how the fuck they must feel when sexual abuse and rape of women is routinely used as a gripping plot device.


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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2021, 10:32:44 AM »
Is this sort of thing having a revival? I remember there being a bit of a glut of this kind of book maybe 10 years back, after the success of some real-life misery memoir led to a small industry of fiction about child abuse/spousal rape/general desolation

The high street booksellers even started labelling a whole shelf for that sort of thing. I can't remember exactly what Waterstones called their section but it might as well have been 'fictional misery porn'.

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2021, 01:08:32 PM »
I think it's important to keep in mind that it is the publishers that pick what books to publish. The grimness is when it's so clearly churned out to order (irrespective of the authenticity of the author's experiences or how well researched it is). The commercial cynicism when juxtaposed with the subject matter is definitely something that gives me an uncomfortable feeling and drives me away from it.

I also find people's prurience and attraction to misery, murder and abuse quite disarming and disorienting. I enjoy some crime stuff, domestic drama, etc, don't get me wrong, but consuming such specific tormentful material on the regular like a bowl of cornflakes seems unhealthy.

Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2021, 07:08:03 PM »
The high street booksellers even started labelling a whole shelf for that sort of thing. I can't remember exactly what Waterstones called their section but it might as well have been 'fictional misery porn'.
I remember been quite stunned by that too. The Waterstone's one was called 'Painful Lives', but the first one I saw was the WH Smith's one, 'Tragic Life Stories'. It did seem a bit sick to me at the time, but then again I suppose you never really know just how many people have had similar experiences and are getting something cathartic out of reading about it. The weekly magazines like Love It! seem to do pretty well running shocking stories about this sort of stuff.

Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2021, 09:15:29 PM »
The weekly magazines like Love It! seem to do pretty well running shocking stories about this sort of stuff.

Indeed they do.


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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2021, 02:38:19 AM »
The dog was raped?

Mister Six

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2021, 03:13:27 AM »
I think that is the implication, yes.

samadriel

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2021, 04:45:32 AM »
Well, the dog could've written it.

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2021, 05:50:54 AM »
Actually, looking at their expressions, maybe you're right.

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2021, 03:32:23 PM »
I used to feel great unease at the sight of those "misery porn" shelves in WHSmiths circa 2005: covered with some loopy, pink, handwritten-looking font and a washed out family photo on the front cover, branded with a title like "Robbed of Innocence", which would juxtapose prettiness with brutality. A dozen variations on the theme and cover would be in print at one time - all so similar in design that they seemed interchangeable. 

I suppose this is all turning into history now: 'twas a period of time that involved - at its best - a breaking of the taboo on the subject of child sexual abuse, but - at its worst - an hysterical mood of "pedogeddon" that put undue emphasis (and police budgets) on individuals like Ian Huntley and Madeleine McCann's killer. This sort of paranoia even found a respectable literary voice with Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones".

In comparison to that sort of thing, the kind of books we are talking about at least have - to their credit - more to do with the true source of child abuse: sexual sadism within the family. From what the OP says, that credit is exhausted by the dodginess of the author's motives (not really minding if pedos read them, and written opportunistically, rather than based on personal insight, beside), but at least books like this help people to see that their society is on their side, as the victims.

edit: typoz
« Last Edit: February 17, 2021, 06:38:06 PM by Retinend »

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2021, 08:10:04 PM »
Edit fuck.

But also - I've been thinking a bit about the re-use of artefacts or documents of actual misery recently. Or even just imagery that's a clear echo of an actual document. Might start a thread in GB (partly because it'll be about stuff on CaB itself, partly because it's not just books or music or film or games).

That often throws and sometimes offends[1] me a lot more than a story vaguely based on archetypes of misery, and I'm not actually sure what makes the difference most of the time.
 1. oh no

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2021, 09:08:21 AM »
YouTube has been sending me down a misery porn rabbithole recently. Once you've watched all the broadcast quality docs on particular murder, you get all these weird home-made ones recommended.







I would never click on them, because I know that the only research tool they have is Google.

This is a big trend these days: people making 20-minute videos that give you the small number of known facts of a case in an inefficient, deliberately filler-laden manner. People like having information spoken to them by "normal people" (i.e. people who don't subdue their emotions as in traditional broadcasting).

edit: another typo (apologies to Zetetic)
« Last Edit: February 18, 2021, 10:35:31 AM by Retinend »

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #15 on: February 18, 2021, 03:22:07 PM »
An edit bug named "it".

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2021, 01:15:18 PM »

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2021, 01:27:01 PM »
I felt like this with ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue.  I’m not really fond of writers just flicking through The Mirror for the inspiration at the best of times but ‘Room’ just felt really arrogant and clumsy.  It didn’t help that she was doing those awful promo interviews with a supercilious attitude of ‘well what makes you think it’s abuse?’ shtick. 

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Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #18 on: February 20, 2021, 11:36:31 AM »
I hate-read Angela's Ashes 20 (!!!!! jesus fuck how is it 20) years ago and that was enough misery porn for me, thank you.

Re: Girl A/ fictional misery porn
« Reply #19 on: February 22, 2021, 09:32:51 PM »
I remember a woman coming onto the library I was working at and asking for "child abuse books". I thought she meant surviving child abuse but she wanted stories about it. Yeah got three shelves worth, sadly.

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