An uncomfortable read as we discover the mechanics of grooming.
A woman in her thirties reflects on a past 'affair' when she is contacted by someone involved in an historic sex abuse case. She has always considered it an affair with an older man, who also happened to be her teacher. The book mainly focuses on how the relationship developed with sections of how her life is in the present.
The theme ultimately is about power. The teacher is thirty years older than his student and manipulates the child - young woman - into doing what he wants while pretending that she is in control. He cannot help himself and will never do anything against her will. 'Are you sure you are ok with this' is the type of thing he frequently says. He makes her believe that she is different to other teenage girls, mature, special but also dark like him. What they are doing is illegal and she will be as much to blame as him, she has the power to destroy his career and his life. Just her.
She enjoys the power over him. Flattered that someone finds this introverted and lonely girl different, talented and attractive is what she finds the most appealing thing. Never at any point does she think of him as attractive in return. She notes his grey hairs, his protruding belly and the thick body hair and no other pleasant features. In her mind he worships her and that is exhilarating and the most sensuous experience she has known in her short life. Eventually guilt, shame, victimhood and accountability are considered.
The subtle details in this account of grooming make this a gripping if slightly sickening read. There is sex and some of it is gratuitous made even more so by the fact that it is abusive, albeit unacknowledged as such. The story would benefit from being a little shorter as the parts following her move from the school (thus the end of the grooming and relationship) are a little aimless and lack the tension of the earlier story. The character's habit of chewing inside her cheek is overused to the point where is becomes trite and a tad irritating.
There is no doubt that this book is of its time in as much as the investigation of historic abuse and how we, as a global society, consider these situations. But, unlike Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, which is consistently referenced, this book will not become a classic in that way. Valuable nonetheless, it is worth reading for the discussion it provokes.
Published by Fourth Estate on 10 March 2020. Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.