Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 14, 2019

Exploded View, by Carrie Tiffany

Trigger warning, added 22/8/19: The ABC has posted a useful article entitled
Taking Care of Yourself (or a loved one) when sexual abuse makes the headlines. 

I have really, really liked Carrie Tiffany’s previous fiction, and was eagerly anticipating reading her new one … so I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am by her latest book, Exploded View.  If it had been written by anybody else I wouldn’t have read it at all.  I would have abandoned it as soon as I realised, and now I wish I had: it’s yet another one about a child damaged by sustained abuse, a topic so done to death I can’t believe that contemporary authors and publishers think there is anything new or insightful to say about it.

The book is unrelentingly sombre, and mercifully short.

If you like wallowing in the unpleasantness of grim fiction à la Sophie Laguna and Emma Donoghue you might like it.  I loathed it.

Enough said…

The only review to balance mine that I can find tonight is at Readings.

Update 21/3/19: there are admiring reviews at The Lifted Brow and at The Monthly but it’s paywalled so you may not be able to read it.

Update 24/3/19 There is a review at The Saturday Paper by Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore in which she wrote that Tiffany “has said Exploded View is her most autobiographical work yet.”  I want to make it clear that I read this work as a work of fiction, because there is an unambiguous disclaimer at the beginning of the book which says that it’s a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual events or to actual persons, living or dead, is unintended.  I took that disclaimer to include the author herself and my reaction to the book was based on my belief that the author had created a work of imagination, based not on any experience but appropriating the tragic experiences of others.   But it seems that this is not so, and that this book is not a case of exploiting someone else’s misery, but rather an act of courage.  So I apologise to Carrie Tiffany for misjudging her.

But I also want to say this: Like any teacher, I have taught children who have been abused.  One of them was the victim of a criminal act so foul I will not even hint at what happened.  I do not read books like this one because they trigger images that distress me.  It had taken me a long time to get these distressing images out of my mind, and now they are back.  Given the prevalence of child abuse, and that it impacts not just on the victims but also to some extent on those who care about them, it seems to me that publishers have a responsibility to make the content of their books clear.

Further update: Susan Wyndham reviews Exploded View in a series at The Guardian called The Unmissables.  It makes me realise that there is nothing unexpected about my reaction to the book… it begins like this:

Anticipation for a new Carrie Tiffany novel may hit a snag when readers learn that Exploded View is the story of a dysfunctional family narrated by a damaged adolescent girl. With the stench of domestic violence and child sexual abuse permeating daily news, even Tiffany’s keenest admirers might be forgiven for deciding they’ve had more than they can bear.

The suffering of children at the hands of adults has also become a mainstay of Australian fiction, and Exploded View has similarities to novels by Sonya Hartnett and Sofie Laguna, Romy Ash and Mark Brandi, all outstanding observers of vulnerability and malevolence.

At first, Tiffany seems to be heading down a deeply rutted road. But the distinctive qualities that made her two previous novels so successful – an original perspective, odd characters, earthy language – emerge quickly from Exploded View, like wildflowers cracking through bitumen.

Do read the review…

Update 26/4/19 For another perspective on the book, please see here.

And please be aware that every time I revisit this post in response to a comment, it re-triggers horrible images in my mind.

Author: Carrie Tiffany
Title: Exploded View
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2019, 192 pages
ISBN: 9781925773415
Source: Bayside Library


Responses

  1. Now tell us how you really feel, Lisa 🤣

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    • Kim, if I told you about the images in my head tonight, you’d have nightmares too. I was never abused as a child, but I have taught children who were, and knowing in graphic detail what happened to one in particular makes reading this type of book repulsive to me.
      And what is the point of it, after all? Everybody knows it happens, and everybody knows the impact is horrific and long-lasting. I don’t think we need gratuitous fiction about it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Quite. I’ve read my fair share. If done well it can shine a spotlight on an issue that up until very recently was never talked about, but if it’s gratuitous then it actually feeds into the problem in the first place. That said, I did watch the 4-hour documentary about the Michael Jackson abuse (“Leaving Neverland”), which was screened on TV last week, and it was a revelation to me, not that the abuse can be so long lasting, but that the victims can be so emotionally tortured by their love/idolisation of their abuser and their knowledge that they had no choice/knew no better and had their childhoods effectively stolen. I thought it was an exemplary feat of documentary making; watching it has changed me forever.

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        • Ah yes, Michael Jackson. You know me, I know nothing about popular culture. But years ago, knowing as little as I do, I raised the likelihood of there being something going on. If I, on the other side of the world and knowing nothing about anything, had an inkling, you can bet that plenty of other people knew more than that and none of the current fuss is a surprise.

          Liked by 1 person

      • I totally agree with you on this. It’s almost as if there a certain subsection of authors who are determined to out-grim one another on matters of abuse.

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        • Well, if what Angela Savage says (below) that this ‘novel’ is autobiographical is true, then perhaps that’s not the case with this book, but rather that it’s perhaps some kind of catharsis.
          I’ve met Carrie at an author event, she’s a lovely person and if any of what’s in this book represents her experience, that’s a very terrible thing.
          But that doesn’t mean that I would have been willing to read the book if I had known…

          Liked by 1 person

          • That really is awful, and yes, in the case of an author writing fiction based on personal experiences, it can most definitely be cathartic…for them. It can magnify the horror for the reader though.

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  2. Going to have to disagree with you on this one, Lisa. I thought Exploded View was mesmerising. As Jessie Coke suggests, the muted rage of the narrator stands in contrast with the externalised rage of men in novels about toxic masculinity, like The Shepherd’s Hut, for example. It’s not giving anything away to say that the novel is Carrie’s most autobiographical work, and I think she is calling on readers not just to bear witness to the abuse, but to respect the narrator’s survival strategies – her acts of sabotage.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Angela, I appreciate your opinion, and I really am sorry if it is autobiographical.
      However, that doesn’t change my experience of reading it. I am still shaking off the images it evoked in my head, and I still wish I hadn’t read it. (A bit like The Story of O, I wish I’d never read that one too.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t know abuse was a thing until I was well into adulthood, but have since known and loved abused people and it is clearly something the victim never gets over. I’m with you in that I could not bear to be asked to identify with a protagonist who was being abused; and also in relation to Michael Jackson – his relationship with his young live-in friends was clearly wrong and I would frequently argue with my young teenage daughter about exactly that point.

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    • I didn’t know when I was young either, but it’s not books like this that are needed. Books like this aren’t going to be read by the sort of people who’ll fall victim to it or turn a blind eye to it or not see it happening under their very noses. They aren’t going to be read by politicians who need to act.
      What’s needed is the sort of protective behaviours programs that have been taught in schools for decades now, and they need to be compulsory so that religious schools can’t opt out. More than that we need girls and women to have the sort of education that fits them to live confidently and independently, so that they are less likely to get trapped in abusive situations. We need refuges and shelters so that people can escape and we need anger management programs for men, and we need to educate for a change of mindset among perpetrators so that they don’t grow up believing that they have a right to use other people’s bodies for their own gratification.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I actively avoid books on this topic now, unless I am tricked by the blurb and get caught out!

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    • And that’s exactly what’s happened here. I simply registered that this was an author whose work I love and didn’t twig from the blurb, which simply says “What if you were to choose a tool to love? Not a different one every day or every week, but the same tool for your whole life? Father man would be a hammer. My mother would be a rag. I would be a knife.”
      It’s clearer from the inside cover flap blurb, but I didn’t read that…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Given that I read in last weekend’s book review pages that she herself was abused as a child and how she still suffers from it to this day, I was very disappointed to read your ‘review’ of this one – though I can’t really comment given that I haven’t read it yet. It may fail as a book for some, but it’s nevertheless a harsh comment on the author’s experience. And I agree with an earlier comment that there are so many books about toxicity in men that I’d rather read something that gives the unheard perspective of the survivors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Annette, I didn’t see that review, and if I had, I wouldn’t have read the book. I don’t read memoirs of abuse, and honestly, I’m surprised that if that information is now public, the publisher didn’t signal it in the book, especially since this is such a departure from her previous work.
      PS I’ve just checked the book again, and it says at the beginning of the book that it’s a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual events or to actual persons, living or dead, is unintended.
      If this isn’t true, how is a reader supposed to know? What I wrote is not a comment on her experience, how could it be?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read this, and I don’t know if I will, but like you I’ve really liked Tiffany’s earlier work so have been interested. I had no idea what its subject matter was, either.

    However, I have respond to your comment that “I can’t believe that contemporary authors and publishers think there is anything new or insightful to say about it.” I think there *can* always be something new or insightful to say about any given topic. I’ve been continually surprised, for example, about the different ways people have found to write about the Holocaust. I’m not arguing that you should read it, of course, and I don’t know what insight Tiffany has brought to the topic. I’m just saying that I don’t agree that writers can’t come up with new ways of writing about something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I just wish they’d give it a rest. It was a relief to read Trevor Shearston’s Hare’s Fur about a good man who takes care of some runaway kids and *doesn’t* take advantage of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess the answer to that is horses for courses… Or, different strokes for different folks? I don’t want to be in the business of telling people what to write?

        Still, I take your point. There are many good men out there. Times are tough for them right now, because these few, really, have sullied their gender.

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        • I’m not telling anyone what to write. But I am being upfront about what I don’t want to read.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I will probably read this at some stage, but I am now forewarned. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jennifer, much appreciated.

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  8. Your view on Carrie Tiffany’s book troubles me, Lisa. You seem to object on the basis of its content and say very little about the quality of the writing, other than it’s not what you expected.

    That’s hardly a review, more a personal opinion.

    So, you didn’t enjoy the book. Maybe that says more about you than about the actual book. As for the idea that Carrie Tiffany writes again about the sexual abuse of children, a topic that’s been done to death already, I’m not the only one, I suspect, who considers this is a subject that needs more rather than less coverage. That is, if we’re to work towards eradicating the abuse of children.

    Tiffany’s exploration of her protagonist’s experience – whether based on the author’s own experience or through her imagination – is a powerful reason for writing the book.

    I found Exposed View to be a compelling, poetic and haunting book. And the structure of the book, and the writer’s use of symbol and imagery as in the internal workings of a car engine, powerful.

    Different from Tiffany’s previous books, sure, but who’s to say she has to keep repeating her work again and again for her readers’ amusement.

    If you read simply for entertainment then yes, this book might not be for you. But there are many people who read for a much deeper and richer experience than mere entertainment. And I believe this book has its charms and humour in places, despite its distressing content.

    Our hero is feisty and views the world through her own particular lens, one I find intriguing. How else would you survive such a family, such a step father and mother?

    As for the idea that if a writer gets some sort of catharsis out of writing her own life story this makes the writing legitimate, I think you misunderstand the notion of catharsis, which is something people can get when they create a work of art, or cook a splendid meal, or make sense of something that had been troubling them for a long time. In my view, much creative writing is cathartic in that it helps us to understand ourselves and others better.

    One last thought. When we read, we tend to have a countertransference type response to the writing. A type of resonating to the material on the basis of who we are and where we’ve come from. And that response can change over time and in different circumstances.

    Therefore, it’s important to reflect on why we feel as we do in reading a particular book, not just denigrate it because we don’t like hearing about a significant problem in our community, one that as I said earlier needs more books about it, not fewer. And certainly not get up on some sort of soap box and proclaim the book a disappointment for no other reason that its content is ‘grim’, and we don’t like it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing your opinion here.

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  10. I was very surprised to read your review. To say, “it’s yet another one about a child damaged by sustained abuse, a topic so done to death I can’t believe that contemporary authors and publishers think there is anything new or insightful to say about it,” seems quite extraordinary, given, as you say, that you explicitly avoid this kind of work.

    The nature and nuance of child abuse is only beginning to enter public consciousness. It is by no means “done to death.” These stories are about power, trust, love, who we are and how to make sense of the world. Big and worthy themes to explore in many nuances.

    Describing child abuse as a boring topic because you don’t have any point of reference presses on the bruises of people who have had this experience and puts you in the camp of people who would prefer to silence people’s voices rather than sit in mild discomfort while you learn more about an experience you have been privileged not to have. This process of sitting inside the skin of another whose experience is so different to yours is how reading fosters empathy, something many people could do with more of.

    To blindly say in your comment, “it’s not books like this that are needed. Books like this aren’t going to be read by the sort of people who’ll fall victim to it or turn a blind eye to it or not see it happening under their very noses. They aren’t going to be read by politicians who need to act.”

    I would ask, how on earth do you know who is going to read this book and the impact it might have on their lives?

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    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Ruth.

      Like

  11. I’ve just finished reading Fiona Wright’s review of Exploded View in The Sydney Review of Books and mention it here as an excellent review of an excellent book and worth reading in order to understand something of the complexity, mastery and success of Carrie Tiffany’s writing in all three of her books, especially her most recent, Exploded View. https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/exploded-view-carrie-tiffany/

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    • Thank you, Elizabeth, I will add it to what I’ve written so that people can read an alternative response to the book.

      Like

  12. […] • Shell (Scribner) by Kristina Olsson, see my review • Exploded View (Text) by Carrie Tiffany, see my review • Daughter of Bad Times (Allen & Unwin) by Rohan Wilson, see my […]

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