An interesting experience yesterday. I came across a reader’s review of Little Monsters on the Waterstones site. It starts like this:

I wasn’t sure I would like this book. A tale of a young girl setting up home with her uncle sounded terribly seedy.

Hmm. Seedy. It goes on to say:

The story is narrated, in reflective mode, by Carol Foxe, the young girl in question, whose dad has murdered her mum so is put into the ‘care’ of her selfish and hard-hearted aunt Margot and attentive Polish uncle (Joey) Jozef who live over the pub they run. HIs friendliness towards her as a child – come to the basement, come for a walk, I have something to show you, don’t tell your aunt – all smack of grooming. The intention may have been to give an air of innocent caring and concern towards the young girl but it struck me as highly inappropriate.

I’m all in favour of complex texts offering – even requiring – multiple readings, but I wonder if anyone else has seen Jozef’s behaviour as ‘inappropriate’. And I wonder, in this context, what ‘inappropriate’ means. It’s revealing, I think, that the reviewer distinguishes between what she perceives, quite rightly, as the author’s intention, to ‘give [Jozef] an air of innocent caring and concern’, although innocent doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly useful (or appropriate) word here, and what she, on the other hand, reads as a series of acts intended to set Carol up as sexual prey. What’s even more interesting is that she doesn’t notice how much more like ‘grooming’ Carol’s behaviour towards Kakuna is, although here too it would be reductive to see their relationship merely in these terms. Perhaps this kind of behaviour is more appropriate between a woman and a girl. But if novels are concerned with – and judged by their adherence to – what’s appropriate, where does that leave fiction? Reading this review made me feel that what I’d written could have been reshelved as a misery memoir if I’d only had the sense to grasp what Jozef was really up to. 
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3 Responses to Grooming

  1. Ms Baroque says:

    Charles, it isn’t about what’s appropriate – or even “appropriate” – it’s about what’s knee-jerk. The reader was reading the novel with a set of preconceptions in place which were nothing to do with the story. This is the kind of thing that gets books banned. Further, if the reader got to the end of the book and there was no payoff on the alleged “grooming,” he or she was simply parading the fact that he or she doesn’t know how to read a novel.Who was it who said that many of today’s novels – PC-obsessed, issue-based – are “journalism in drag”? This reader is the fallout.

  2. Well, this is just the thoughtful antidote I needed for what was essentially a fairly poisonous comment. Thank you, Ms B., from whom I expect no less.Hmm, though. Books banned. Maybe I should tip the Daily Mail off in time for the paperback…

  3. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of the gym teacher in the fantastic Donnie Darko movie, when she wants a short story by Graham Green to be banned from school teaching because she connects it to the movie Bonanza with Lorne Green… :-)Francesco

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