Trapped in a place of torture

Khadj Rouf on the 'tough read' that is The Incest Diary, an anonymous offering published by Bloomsbury.

Be in no doubt, this book is a tough read. It’s an anonymous memoir of an American woman who recounts experiences of sexual abuse by her father, beginning when she was three years old and continuing into her twenties. Although Alexis Kirschbaum, Bloomsbury’s UK publishing director, has described the book as ‘disturbing’, she has also said that this is partly because ‘the author’s account is a chronicle of pleasure’.  

It is not.

The book is laid out impressionistically, moving between the past and present. The writing is compelling, often graphic and highly disturbing. On the surface, the writer is from an affluent and successful family. However, she reveals a transgenerational history of abuse; some of her relatives have had mental illness and died by suicide. She depicts a painful relationship with both her parents. Her relationship with her father is portrayed with intensity. She catalogues his suicide threats; emotional abuse towards her; experiences of torture and extreme violence. She gives glimpses into his distorted psyche – the ways in which he justifies and normalises his behaviour; the way he blames his daughter and how he ‘grooms’ her into a sexual object who can only depend on his love through a channel of abuse. He systematically and totally misuses his power. He dominates her mind.

A picture emerges of a daughter in turmoil, who has intense feelings of love for her father, as well as the desire to kill him. She appears to have internalised a distorted view of herself, and recounts intimate relationships where fetishised and brutalised sex have become normal.

Although the writer describes sexualised feelings towards her father, it is important to see this within its abusive context, beginning when she was three years old. She has been ensnared and manipulated. She writes about disturbances from early childhood, suffering physical pain and injury, cutting, phobias, destructive emotions and dissociation. She is conditioned, almost ‘brainwashed’, into a pattern of relationships where she is exploited, and where she displays signs of sex addiction. She makes several references to disclosures, within and outside the family, when she was totally ignored or pressured back into silence. This is the kind of world that can make a person go mad.

This is a profoundly sad portrayal of the corrosive damage done to a child by her father over a long period of time. It is a powerful example of what the late Ray Wyre described as corruption and violation of a relationship. It is a harrowing testimony about the harms that children can face from the very people that they are meant to be able to trust. I hope that this book will not be sensationalised because of its graphic content. To focus on one aspect of the narrative at the expense of the context, profoundly misses the point. The imagery of the final lines is heartbreaking: the narrator lost in dissociation, looking at a green landscape, trapped in a place of torture.

- Reviewed by Dr Khadj Rouf, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber