AND THE GIRL
Cahill, in Arms and the Girl, was named for the
month she was born in. All too aptly, since she is fated to
live in the coldness and harshness of the lowest level of
an underclass family. Physically abused by her father from
the age of three, unloved by anyone but her ineffectual sister
Prue, she lives by a creed of absolute cynicism. She hates;
she destroys. But she has an independence, determination and
strength that make her more than a victim. This character
bears the symbolic weight Stevie Davies gives it by linking
January with Jesus Christ.
Arms and the Girl is Stevie Davies's third
novel. Her greatest strength besides powerful writing,
fine character drawing and splendid story-telling is
honesty. The Cahill family is anatomised with a brilliance
of detail and unflinching recognition of horror that gives
it utter conviction.
It is because January is the neediest child, looked after
as a baby by the narcissistic eldest son, that she is singled
out by the loutish NCO father to bear the brunt of his rage.
He sees in her the unloved, unlovable child he hates in himself.
His character is masterly in its sporadic charm, self-pity,
weakness, loneliness and evil.
Living close to the Cahills in the remote Scottish village
they are posted to when the narrative begins, in the late
1950s, are the Gordons: a Church of Scotland rector, his highly
intelligent, conscientious wife and similar daughter. The
Protestant 13-year-old Isabel befriends the Catholic Prue
Cahill, whose instinctive response to deprivation is to try
to escape into another identity, that of an intellectually
aspiring Scot. She would ideally like to be Isabel.
But Isabel has the emotional security bequeathed by her upbringing
to follow the search for knowledge to painful truth. She dares
to question Britain's right to rule in those countries the
army families have been posted to; she dares to tell her Calvinistic
father she does not believe in God. Prue resorts, as life
at home descends into hell, to seeing visions of the Virgin
Mary. Her love of books becomes a mere search for solace.
Throughout this novel Stevie Davies demonstrates the symbiotic
relationship of evil and the denial of truth and reality.
Hugh Cahill finds dangerous comfort in his church's offering
of forgiveness through self-deceiving confession.
Mary Cahill does infinite damage by blinding herself to his
sexual abuse of their children. Even the well-meaning doctor
who treats Mrs Gordon for cancer harms her by dishonest reassurance.
January and Isabel are the truth-seekers. One is destroyed
by her inability to blind herself so as to avoid intolerable
pain; the other, born luckier, achieves an existence of purpose
and integrity. Both, equally, are heroines.
|| Frances Hill, The Times
|| A harrowing novel about
the miserable lives of a family of army children abused by
their father. Set in a bleak army community on the Moray Firth
in 1959, it follows the fate of two sisters Prue, a
bright, bookish girl desperate to escape, and January, equally
desperate, but trapped by the savage hatred of her father
and the complicity of her indifferent family. Through Prue's
friendship with Isabel, the local rector's daughter, January
glimpses another, gentler, world, but Isabel's family has
its own problems, and January's victimisation is unremitting.
A powerfully written book.
|| Independent on
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