Putney by Sofka Zinovieff | Book Review
Publication: Knopf Canada
Release date: August 21, 2018
How I got the copy: Penguin Random House Canada
Trigger warning: sexual abuse, pedophilia
I went into this book with just skimming the summary vaguely knowing what the plot was about. What I knew of the book was that it’s set in London’s art scene in the 70’s and that it was told in three perspectives. What I didn’t realize was that part of the story would be told in the perspective of a pedophile.
To state the obvious, it was hard to get through Putney and not because I wasn’t enjoying the book as a whole but because it’s a hard story to read. It follows Daphne, a twelve-year-old girl, being groomed by Ralph, her father’s thirty-year-old friend. Daphne is raised in London’s bohemian art district in the 70’s with basically no supervision. We read Daphne run wild and free with her best friend in tow, Jane, and how she meets Ralph and how he slips into her life and wrapped his old fingers around her and makes her think they’re in love.
One of the most frustrating things to read is that Ralph doesn’t see himself as a pedophile. He sees his relationship with Daphne as beautiful and rare, and it’s just unfortunate that she’s so young because of what society thinks of their age gap but doesn’t see anything wrong with it. In his mind, he sees themselves as free spirits and and uses that as a way to excuse what he’s doing and has done. It’s absolutely infuriating that Ralph doesn’t see himself as a pedophile or as someone who’s done anything wrong.
Daphne and Ralph stay civil throughout the years and when Daphne’s an adult Ralph refers to her as crazy and unstable from her prior drug abuse but fails to remember that he, and everyone else in their circle, has used and abused drugs themselves. Some secrets are revealed, some secrets are uncovered and by the end of the book you’re left sitting there with book in hand feeling manipulated by certain characters.
Putney bounces from past to present and between Daphne, Ralph, and Jane’s perspectives where we read how each character interprets moments, how they’ve grown, and how they remember the past. This book makes you think and while you’re reading each character, especially Ralph, we’re shown how there are so many sides to a person. Putney will make you contemplate if one situation really defines someone as a bad person. I’m going to leave it at that. Keep all the other frustrating and complex questions you’ll ask yourself while reading this to discover yourself.
We read from the eyes of the victim, perpetrator, and witness. Putney shows the complexities of life, family, trauma, and forgiveness. It reveals all the insecurities and loneliness of these characters while they’re being perceived in different ways from outside characters. Putney is atmospheric in its writing and such a powerful book. If you’re able to read about this subject matter, I recommend reading it.
*A copy of this book was provided by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review*