Child abuse

The making of Good Queen Bess

In the course of British history there have been few royals with a childhood as traumatic as that of Elizabeth I. She endured the torment of her mother Anne Boleyn’s execution, her father’s death, the comings and goings of four stepmothers, sexual abuse from a stepfather (who was executed soon after), the death of a half-brother, imprisonment and the death of a half-sister before finally acceding to the throne. All this by the age of 25. Throughout her young life, Elizabeth veered from sole inheritrix of the crown to hated bastard child Not many could cope with such a relentless identity crisis. Throughout her young life, Elizabeth veered from sole

Joy, fear and regret in contemporary Britain

For two and a half years, as Britain adjusted from normality to the most disorienting collective trauma of our lifetimes, Will Ashon trawled the country for strangers’ stories. He wrote letters to random addresses, went hitchhiking, talked to the drivers and followed chance connections in pursuit of glimpses into other people’s lives. Once they had consented to speak, he asked some to tell him a secret and others to answer a question from a list. The resulting anonymous confessions, reminiscences, philosophical reflections and anecdotes were obtained via interviews, emails or voice recordings. They form a quietly remarkable study of the state of the nation, in which fragments piece together into

#MeTooInceste: has France’s code of silence finally been broken?

Montpellier Accusations of child abuse against Olivier Duhamel, now 70, ex-vice-president of Sciences Po university and of the secretive Siècle (Century) club of Parisian movers and shakers, have cast a dark shadow on the legacy of the soixante-huitards, the baby boomers who occupied the Sorbonne in 1968 and went on to rule (and ruin) France. Duhamel’s disgrace is long delayed. Only now has his stepdaughter, Camille Kouchner, published a book accusing him of sexually abusing her twin brother 30 years ago — and doing so within a culture in which his fashionable friends knew about the abuse but kept quiet. It’s an accusation Duhamel characterises as a ‘personal attack’ but

House of horrors: Girl A, by Abigail Dean, reviewed

If the last quarter of 2020 saw a glut of novels published, of which there were winners (Richard Osman) and losers (in a just world, Piranesi would still be at number one), January is a less frenzied time for new writers to launch. Even so, there are often hyped and hot new books — among which this year Girl A is one. It comes with excitable reports of huge international sales and an insistence that it will be everywhere. The accompanying blurb also manages to mention repeatedly that the author got a double-first at Cambridge, which, frankly, in these days of being ruled by Oxbridge inadequates who think that being

A convincing and hair-raising depiction of showbiz at its most luridly weird: I Hate Suzie reviewed

Fifteen minutes into the first episode of I Hate Suzie, main character Suzie Pickles was doing a photoshoot in her country cottage for Esquire magazine. ‘We don’t know what we’re looking for right now,’ the photographer told her. ‘We’re just going to cycle through some feelings and see where we are.’ What he didn’t know, but we did, was quite how many feelings Suzie (Billie Piper) had already had to cycle through by then. The programme began with her thrilled to hear that she’d bagged a Disney film role and cracking open the champagne. A few minutes later, she learned that some sex photos of her had been hacked and

James O’Brien and the other VIP child sex abuse lies

Last week I wrote here about James O’Brien of LBC. In particular, I highlighted the platform he gave to the convicted liar and paedophile Carl Beech (aka ‘Nick’). In July Beech was sent to prison for 18 years for fraud and perverting the course of justice. Over the course of some years, he had made outrageous and untrue claims about a number of public figures, including two D-Day veterans. And while most of the British media was incredibly wary of giving a megaphone to Beech’s lies, James O’Brien consistently used his LBC show to give publicity to Beech and his main promoter, Mark Watts of the now-defunct media organisation Exaro.

Boris Johnson ‘read riot act’ in front of MPs for child abuse comments

Boris Johnson was given an angry lecture by a minister in the voting lobbies about his comments that money had been ‘spaffed up a wall’ for investigating child sex abuse, I understand. The former Foreign Secretary upset survivors of the crime by using the term during radio interview last week. He told LBC that ‘you, know £60 million I saw was being spaffed up a wall on some investigation into historic child abuse’. On Thursday night, as MPs were voting on the latest round of Brexit amendments, he was confronted in the lobby by Victims’ Minister Victoria Atkins who, according to several MPs present, ‘read him the riot act’. She

You couldn’t make it up

Orhan Pamuk, writing about Vladimir Nabokov’s masterful memoir Speak, Memory, noted that there was a particular ‘thrill’ for the writer who calls ‘something wholly autobiographical fiction, something wholly fictional autobiography’. When Nabokov did this, Pamuk said, it changed ‘the secret centre of the story’. The fertile interplay of fact and fiction animates a pair of books by the Korean American author Alexander Chee: one a collection of essays, the other Chee’s debut novel, published in the US in 2001 but appearing in Britain for the first time. There’s something strangely nostalgic about reading Edinburgh (it’s set in Maine; the title is a reference to a book that features in the

Why do we care so little about child abuse?

Abusing children is one of the most terrible things men do. We all agree about that. And I think we’re all aware, as Sajid Javid announced on Monday, that it’s a growing problem. The same technology that allows millions to share videos of romping kittens has created an awful, expanding market for images of children — mostly very young girls. There has been a 700 per cent rise in reports of child abuse images since 2012, said Javid: an average of 400 arrests a month. Police think that there are now 80,000 people in the UK who pose a serious threat to kids. Javid is shocked by the scale of

Trouble for Lucia

In 1988, James Joyce’s grandson Stephen destroyed all letters he had from, to or about his aunt Lucia Joyce, the novelist’s daughter. Many saw the destruction of documents pertaining to Lucia, who had spent the majority of her life in asylums and had been close to her father, as the destruction of keys to understanding her father’s work. Stephen replied: ‘No one was going to set their eyes on them [the letters] and re-psychoanalyse my poor aunt.’ Stephen, still alive today, appears — though with his name blacked out — in this novel, an imagining of the life and legacy of Lucia. ‘A silly old cunt,’ he is called by

Could Dublin’s preachy liberals save Ireland’s abortion ban?

Could there be a Trump-style upset when the Irish vote next month on whether to repeal the country’s ban on abortion? That’s the question I discuss in the latest Holy Smoke podcast with my guest Tony Trowbridge, an Australian who became an Irish citizen when he was studying law at Trinity College, Dublin, in the 1970s. He’s watched the country’s transformation from something close to a Catholic theocracy into a society dominated by strident-but-smug media-savvy liberals. Irish political correctness is, if anything, even more preachy and joyless than the American variety. In that respect it’s reminiscent of Irish Catholicism, which paradoxically used to have an almost Calvinist feel to it.

A man, a boy, a bed

Stephen Bernard has led an institutionalised life. Behind the doors of the church presbytery, at public school, on hospital wards after repeated suicide attempts, in therapists’ offices, at Oxford University — he has sought protection and cure. Some institutions woefully failed, while others revived Bernard from the appalling child abuse inflicted by Canon T.D. Fogarty, Latin teacher, priest and rapist. An account of the open wounds left by years of assault, Paper Cuts is also a memoir about the anxiety of seeking to belong, yet as a survivor never quite finding a part. We follow Bernard for a day, now aged 40 and an Academic Visitor at Oxford’s Faculty of

Found and lost | 30 November 2017

Charles Duff’s memoir tells a sad tale of cruelty and betrayal with spry wit rather than bitter resentment. Notwithstanding the subtitle’s threat of earnest Welsh soul-searching, Charley’s Woods is tart, arch and crisp. It recalls a strange, lonely childhood with brisk frivolity and a ruthless perception of other people’s oddities, vices and humours. Duff was born in Battersea in 1949. His mother, Irene Gray, was a Dublin social worker who pioneered role-play therapy in Ireland, and became pregnant by an Irish don of French-Jewish descent. After her son’s surreptitious birth, she hastened back to Dublin. In a hugger-mugger fashion, without legal formalities, two collateral royalties, the Marchioness of Carisbrooke and

Two dark tales

Just over halfway through this grim and gripping book, the author describes herself and her girlfriend ‘lying on my bed kissing’. She says: ‘I love kissing her.’ And: ‘We kissed and kissed, and soon my hands were at her shirt and I was tugging it off.’ And: ‘I kissed her again.’ And: ‘I reached down between her legs.’ And: ‘She reached down to touch me and then we were moving together and it felt good and I moaned and it felt good again.’ Then she says: ‘And then it didn’t.’ The sex feels good. Then it doesn’t. Something has happened to the author, deep in her past, and it comes

The sting of betrayal

This may seem an odd thing to say about a writer who’s been officially declared a National Living Treasure in his native Australia, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times before winning it with Schindler’s Ark — but I sometimes think Thomas Keneally is badly underrated. After all, Schindler’s Ark won that Booker Prize 35 years — and 19 Keneally novels — ago, and since then his reputation appears to have settled down into that of a solid craftsman: the sort of novelist who rarely lets you down, but who never quite hits the literary heights either. As to how this wildly unjust verdict has come about, my

Cinderella in China

She was a foundling in her own family, shunted to adoptive parents for two years, then to the edge of China, to a fishing village on the East China Sea, and to a furious, alcoholic grandfather and a grandmother sold at 12 into marriage for some pottage, and never given a name. Is that colourful enough for you? But there is more: the life story of the young Chinese filmmaker and novelist Xiaolu Guo makes Cinderella’s seem bland. The hovel she lived in until she was seven was on Anti-Pirates Passage. Her grand-father, a failed and bitter fisherman, lost his livelihood in the 1970s, when the Chinese state collectivised fishing

Excusing a huge group of paedophiles isn’t the answer to tackling child abuse

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who heads Operation Hydrant, the police investigation of ‘non-recent’ child abuse cases, now says that paedophiles who view images of child abuse should not be prosecuted, because police cannot cope with the numbers involved. Mr Bailey is wedded to the doctrine that someone who says he is an abuse victim must automatically be believed. The result, said Sir Richard Henriques in his scathing report on Operation Midland, is that the criminal justice system totters: ‘Chief Constable Bailey’s argument ignores the consequences of false terminology.’ Another consequence is that the child abuse statistics, unchecked, explode. Mr Bailey will not admit his error and so, in order to

Impaired vision

With the Shannon Matthews story, it’s not easy to accentuate the positive — but BBC1’s The Moorside (Tuesday) is having a go nonetheless. Although touching at times, the result ultimately proves a rather awkward watch. Shannon was nine when she went missing from the Moorside estate, Dewsbury, in February 2008. Her mother Karen made a tearful televised appeal for the return of ‘my beautiful princess daughter’, but ended up serving four years in jail for being an accomplice in Shannon’s kidnapping. With her chaotic taxpayer-funded life, and her seven children by five fathers, Karen was duly turned into a sort of anti-poster girl for the tabloids. The Moorside itself became

The unkindest cult of all

When I was 22 I met a man called Yisrayl Hawkins who said his coming had been prophesied in the Book of Isaiah. Yisrayl (born Bill) lived with his many disciples and several wives in a compound carved out of the red dirt scrub near Abilene, Texas. His cult was called the House of Yahweh, and as a sign of their commitment, his 400 followers had all changed their names to Hawkins. Yisrayl was a narcissist, as most cult leaders are, and this made him tremendously boring. As he droned on about being chosen, and his conviction that Satan was in fact female, I watched the ferrety little Hawkins children

Murky subjects, misty settings

A short-story renaissance has been promised since 2013. That year Alice Munro won the Nobel, Lydia Davis won the Booker International, and George Saunders’s bestselling collection The Tenth of December won the Folio Prize. The rise of the form was declared, but it is mainly now that we’re reaping the harvest. Established novelists such as Philip Hensher, Mark Haddon and Lucy Caldwell have recently published collections. But perhaps we’d get a better sense of where the form is at present by looking to those who’ve recently announced themselves in it. Twenty-five-year-old Daisy Johnson’s excellent debut is set in the precarious and artificial landscape of the East Anglian fens: marshland that