Thursday, 16 June 2011

Abandoned by Anya Peters

Peters’s disturbing memoir is easy to pigeonhole, and I confess that it isn’t the sort of book that I would normally read. It’s an account of a spectacularly miserable childhood of a little girl adopted by her aunt, a woman she always sees as her Mummy, into the violent household she shares with an unpredictable, drunken bully.

Alcohol, predictably, plays a part in the sorry saga. ‘Daddy’, her uncle, is frequently intoxicated, and drunkenly berates Anya, shouting that she doesn’t belong in the house with the rest of the children:

It’s what Daddy is always saying, screaming it out week after week in drunken arguments. “She’s not wanted here, right! She doesn’t belong here... They dumped her over here with you because they didn’t want her over there and she’s not wanted here either. I want her out,” he says snapping open another beer, “She doesn’t belong here.”

Mummy does her best to stick up for Anya, but succumbs to the bottle as well:

“Don’t worry about me,” she’d whisper to us those nights when we’d all tiptoed back down after he had staggered off to bed. “I’m as tough as old boots, me.” But she wasn’t; thought neither was she quite ready for the monster my uncle turned into after swallowing beer and vodka all night. She just wasn’t willing to be a victim. Soon she was fighting fire with fire, matching him vodka for vodka as they tried to scream an pummel one another into the kind of partner they wanted each other to be.

The constant abuse, often physical, progresses into sexual abuse. Anya’s uncle is eventually arrested for his crimes and sent to prison. Anya and her aunt temporarily move to the home of another daughter, but the effect on both of them has been terrible. Anya’s mother is nearly catatonic and drinking heavily again:

During the day, indoors, she sat in the front room with the curtains drawn watching TV, living on Silk Cut and milky tea and her nerves. When she passed me to go to the bathroom one morning after getting a postcard from the boys asking when she was coming home, I smelt drink on her breath.

Despite all these terrible events, Anya manages to pass her A-Levels and qualifies as a lawyer. Unfortunately, her self esteem is badly damaged by her past, and she finds herself in another abusive relationship. She ends up sleeping in her car in Brighton and London, finally breaking away from the spiral of despair by writing her story in a blog which eventually became this book.

Even after all the horrible things that happened to her, Peters shows a lack of rancour and a forgiveness that is humbling. I’m glad I read it for that, but I don’t think it’s an area I’ll investigate again.

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