Book reviews: If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild and 

Madeleine Kingsley is moved by stories of mental anguish.


If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild By Jane Haynes

Quartet, £20

Indescribable By Candice Derman

Quartet £10

The dark childhoods of actress Candice Derman (author of Indescribable) and psychotherapist Jane Haynes (If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild) might have sprung from the Brothers Grimm. Their stories are, however, all too painfully true.

 Coincidentally, continents and time-frames apart, both women grew up as emotional, if not actual, orphans — adrift, unhappy and hungry for small acts of human kindness. Their two highly individual, must-read memoirs tell of triumph over early traumas that would have broken many. 

What links their work is that Derman, who had already had successful therapy in her native South Africa, later found her way to Haynes’s London consulting rooms and so to a cameo role in Haynes’s erudite yet offbeat meditation on her personal and professional life.

Haynes recalls her client’s sapphire eyes and striking composure. Yet, between the ages of eight and 14, Candice had consistently been sexually abused by her stepfather, his grand, colonial house having become a perverted playground. Adding devastation to her deep damage, her perpetrator was eventually imprisoned for two paltry years.

Her Jewish parents had divorced; her father was distant and her mother blinkered by her wealthy remarriage bringing a seemingly enviable life of servants, exotic holidays and caviar.

Nobody questioned why the once very bright schoolchild slid into failure and a marked precociousness. Nobody suspected the charming man of the house.

Candice thus received a far lengthier sentence than her abuser — six years of feeling utterly battered in body and spirit, solely responsible for her hideous secret.

If she spoke out, “Mom’s fantasy would become a lie and I would lose her down the rabbit hole. Dad” — meaning her stepfather — “would go to jail, my sisters would be broken and it would all be my fault.”

There’s a literary genre known as “pity memoir”, but Derman’s first-person, child’s-eye narrative is different in both depth and dignity. Hers is an unsparing witness statement, a shocking, raw and graphic account of her feelings, of the abuser’s grooming, fumbling and eventual raping.

It’s so strong a story that I wanted to enter its pages to rescue this child from her nightmares, her self-blame, her occasional, disturbing frissons of pleasure and her overriding sense that she must be evil. I wanted to run her to a place of safety. But, in the end, Derman emerged whole, not just to survive but to thrive as a loving wife and mother. Jane Haynes reports their therapy ending as, 15 years married, Candice and her husband joyfully conceive a daughter on a romantic weekend in Provence.

“Life has taught me,” writes Haynes, “that tragedy skulks round every bend in the road.” Her own childhood is told only to preface a much broader exploration of her self, her case-histories, her postnatal depression, her love of myth, poetry and the classics, Proust, Shakespeare (who knew that his plays contain not a single good mother?) and the need to fathom (with reference to Nabokov’s Lolita) how we can ever effectively address the need for prevention of sexual offences against the young.

As a Hampstead, Jewish child of the ’40s, Haynes could not rely on human nurture: her father died of syphilis when she was very small, her mother was bi-polar. A school boarder at six, she struggled with “homesickness for a non-existent home.” Yet she became a renowned therapist by way of mentoring from R. D Laing, enfant terrible of psychiatry, and Jungian psychoanalytic training, which she has abandoned for a more engaging, conversational style. She inspires her patients with the courage, as she puts it “to open up their warrior wounds to my sympathetic attention…

“It’s through the transcendent magic of language,” she contends, “that the wounds of body and soul are cured.” Troubled times, it seems, make true therapists.


 Madeleine Kingsley is a therapist and freelance reviewer



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