martes, 15 de mayo de 2012

Lucky by Alice Sebold

It is possible to start reading Lucky by Alice Sebold under the misunderstanding that it is a novel. As the opening pages unfold with their description of a violent rape, it might be just another crime novel. The horror is tangible, the sensations evoked predictably nauseating. A few pages later, when the reality of the book’s memoir becomes clear, however, the initial reaction seems to become one of embarrassed over-statement until, that is, the work’s true and admirable complexity begins to emerge. Alice Sebold was eighteen years old when she became a rape victim. An academic father and an unpredictable mother had been perfectly good parents, despite their own failings or limitations. Similarly, it seems, Alice Sebold became a complex victim, on the one hand the completely innocent and wronged party who had been wantonly violated by a violent criminal, but yet on the other a person who somehow, via her own quite unremarkable behaviour and lifestyle, could not immediately endear herself, even via her victim status, to those who might offer sympathy or assistance. Perhaps sympathy could never have been enough to diminish the grim reality of Alice Sebold’s experience. Only empathy might have helped, and that was largely impossible. But the subtlety of Alice Sebold’s account of her experience of rape and its aftermath is precisely her ability to empathise with others who had similar experiences and who had, at one stage or another, fallen victim to one of the pitfalls on the way to justice. There is the subject of consent, of course, an issue that cannot really be judged when no-one else was present at the time. There is the issue of identification and having to be confronted again by the assailant. There is the issue of character and trustworthiness of the victim, qualities that inevitably are clued from lifestyle, attitude and deportment. And where does consideration of such things lead when the act of rape was not actually conducted at knife-point, when the victim cannot identify her assailant and when she openly begins to sleep around, use drugs and get drunk? Alice Sebold’s Lucky deals with all these issues and deals with them with subtlety and interest. But overall the victim’s involvement is paramount and it is this sense of sharing in the experience that is the book’s greatest and perhaps enduring achievement. There is doubt and insecurity to be lived through, alongside the continuing pain, as well as revolting physical and mental horror. Lucky takes the reader frighteningly there in an engaging and compelling way. Sometimes life takes you where you do not want to go. We are not blessed by such experience, only by the ability, eventually, to cope with it.

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