The Macclesfield Reading group received 10 free copies from the Reading Agency and read it for their March meeting. Here are our thoughts:
‘difficult subject but very well written’
‘well written – it’s a realistic slant on child abuse and how middle class families can become so absorbed in their lives they miss out on what’s really happening’
‘hard topic to read and I didn’t like any of the characters but I enjoyed the book!’
‘quite gripping and throws up a lot of questions. Some very self-absorbed characters who were difficult to like but well written regardless’
‘an interesting read on an uncomfortable subject – obviously influenced by Lolita but very well written’
Excellent book covering the subject of grooming. At the time and for a long time afterwards Daphne does not know or consider that she is being groomed by Ralph. he is in his 30s and she is only 9 when he first sees her and is smitten. The tale builds slowly but convincingly into a loving and magical relationship for Ralph and for Daphne likewise...until much later in her 40s and after a difficult 20s to 40s life she is forced to accept that she was shockingly used and abused by him. There are 2 main characters of great depth and with a third Jane who is her friend. Read from both perspectives it is portrayed as a magical love story until janes involvement brings it forcibly into reality. It is a sordid betrayal by Ralph on Daphne.How Daphnes family were not concerned about the burgeoning relationship is a tad unbelievable.Ralph is self centered and only in his later years is he anywhere near accepting his wrongdoing. It does read well as a romantic novel despite the obvious grooming until the reader is brought up sharply by Janes involvement which sharply reminds all of the awfulness of Ralphs behaviour. She also has been abused by Ralph and at the time was drawn to him at a young teen age.Ralph is on investigation by the police to be a true pedophile with involvement with young girls and teenage boys.
'Putney' is a powerful story of grooming, set against the backdrop of 1970's England: the tale switches from the time of the events to the present day, with three main narrators telling their account of what happened, where and when. All the supporting characters are well drawn and believable; Daphne as a teenage girl evokes memories of being exactly that age, with all the emotional and physical upheavals accompanying the rocky road from puberty to adolescence. Gradually we learn the damage that was done to her, how she descended into a life of drugs and abuse, unhappy marriage, lost opportunities and self denial. Motherhood is her salvation. It is the recognition that her daughter, at thirteen years old, is still a child, but is the same age as she was when enticed into a full sexual relationship with a thirty year old family friend: Daphne recognizes the treatment by Ralph for what it was: sexual exploitation, rape, abuse of power by a man over twice her age. Her whole perception of her relationship with Ralph undergoes a complete transformation from "he was my first great love and I was so special to him" to "a man of thirty brainwashed me into thinking what we did was acceptable, who manipulated me as a child into thinking such a secret was romantic".
Two aspects of the story underpin Daphne's abuse by Ralph: her liberal, intelligentsia, politically active, artistic parents are guilty of parental neglect: both were so intent upon their own lives they had little time to notice what was going on; they treated a 12 year old girl as if she were a responsible adult. Ralph is portrayed as a man who simply refuses to believe what he did was wrong, that he harmed Daphne in any way, that he was guilty of any misconduct: he justifies his sexual exploitation of Daphne by using the word "love". He is utterly selfish, incapable of adopting another perceptive. We cannot but feel sorry for his wife, Nina.
The story alternates in setting between England and Greece: the physical and cultural landscapes of both countries are described with vivid detail. Throughout the book we learn more details about Daphne's family, her best friend Jane, her daughter Laura, her two husbands, her complex relationship with her mother, and above all her Greek identity. The story is told without any undue emotion: it is at times almost brutally matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality. Not until nearly the end of the book do we learn the extent of Ralph's culpability.