Edition cover

  • ISBN10: 0140275592
  • ISBN13: 9780140275599
  • Paperback
  • 416 pages
  • Penguin Books Ltd

A Certain Age
by Rebecca Ray

Reviewed by manolo

Rating: 5 out of 5

  • Posted 7 years ago
  • Viewed 9915 times, 0 comments
  • Average user rating: (5/5)

A shocking account of emotional and sexual abuse in late 20thC Britain

Rebecca Ray's debut novel is shocking and disturbing.

It is shocking in the conventional sense that the language is graphic and obscene.

The central character is a disturbed 13 year old girl, (although she turns 14 during the course of the book.)

Since reading it I have learned that Ray left school at 16 to write the book. She was only 18 when it was published.

A Certain Age is the story of a young girl growing up in Britain. On her first day at High School, she is teased and humiliated. Nevertheless, she gets home and tells her Dad that school was "excellent". Until now, she has been a Daddy's girl, and she can feel herself drifting away on the tide of her adolescence. She regrets it a little but is powerless to do otherwise.

She learns quite quickly that in order to fit in with the gang, "the cool people", she has to let the boys grope her. She takes no pleasure in any of the sexual activity. In fact she often finds it painful, and feels nauseated by it, but still submits to it. She knows that one person is disgusted by her behaviour, and she even savours that thought.... to her, even the word "disgusting" has charm and fascination.

There is no hint here of romance, or even affection... no tenderness whatsoever. Participating in degrading sex acts is simply a strategy for survival. She has no notion of being pretty or attractive, just knows that she has something that men want. The sex is treated almost like an excretory function.... with not even a whisper of eroticism. The only thing that truly excites her is being degraded and hurt. Each experience is described with a brutal realism.

It is written in the first person. But the protagonist is nameless. To write an entire book about someone who is such a nobody that she has no name is the most extra-ordinary achievement.

This book is crazy. The subject matter is distasteful, but it is written wonderfully well. For example, the heroine's family bicker all the time, but she manages to turn that into dialogue that reads so naturally that you never question it. Also, some parts are really funny.

It would be very hard to believe that this is all fiction.

At the beginning, the girl is just learning to accept being groped by her circle of school friends, the dope smokers. They don't even regard this as exciting, it is just something to do with your hands in between rolling joints.

Halfway through the book, she starts "going out" with a man old enough to be her father. She tells him that she is only fourteen, and still he has sex with her (which she hates). Inexplicably, the parents know this and do nothing about it.

If even half of that Ray is writing is true, she should have been speaking to the police. Maybe she was, I don't know.

Slowly, the girl's sense of self-loathing increases. She moves from enjoying being abused and demeaned to self-harm. Not only do her male acquaintances abuse her, but she keeps apologizing and going back for more..... as though she feels a need to be punished for being who she is.

It seems possible that writing this worrying novel may have served as a kind of catharsis for Ms Ray. One certain hopes so. The other thing is that there must be countless girls and women who have endured similar emotional problems with all the ghastly attendant consequences (or maybe are still doing so), and it is possible that for them this novel may serve as a life raft to a drowning mariner.

What is great and kind of humbling, is that anyone who has endured this sort of experience can describe it so well. And even though the book seems to be about a child who has no one to turn to, no one she can confide in and trust, there is a touching list of acknowledgements in the front for the all the people who helped her and supported her when she was writing it.

I would say that this is an unsuitable book for the very young, but for the mature reader who is not too squeamish, I would say to read this book carefully, because usually people in this girl's situation are silent (I think), so here we get to listen to the voice of the voiceless. Very powerful stuff, if a little depressing. If this experience is anywhere near typical, we are indeed living in a deeply troubled society.


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