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  • Writer's pictureEve da Silva Msc, PgDip

Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop - review - page turner about the complex nature of memory and trauma

Available for pre-order .

Trigger warning for themes of interpersonal trauma and abuse - take care of yourself and if you have the support of a therapist, that doesn't necessarily mean avoidance, it might mean knowing how to ground yourself but also starting to approach what scares you by being taught to do so safely.

I found this quote by Harper Lee that compares reading to breathing and that makes a lot of sense to me.

When I pick up a book - it is something that comes as second nature, reading is probably what primed me to be interested in psychology and it is no surprise really that I, like many English Literature students turned to psychology as an additional discipline.

It's a truism to say that fiction gives us access to the minds, worlds and experiences of others in the most unique way but I want to name it anyway. I want to name this true thing because it's a true thing that motivates me to write about the books I read, in the hope to share how encountering these stories has changed for me since training as a therapist.

Of course I read for the escapism of fiction, the sense of connection with the story and for the love of a well paced plot. Nevertheless the thing that appeals the most to me is the opportunity to meet the characters on the page.

It is with this in mind that I reflect on Katie Bishop's debut novel, which, if you are interested will debut in May 2023 just in time for your summer read list (doesn't that just feel ages away right now?!).

A compulsive and timely exploration of the complicated nature of memory and trauma, power and consent, victimhood and shame - Publisher's summary.

The description on the publisher release caught my attention. The themes of trauma, power, consent, victimhood and shame are something that I am interested in in my clinical work and my research. One of these days, once everything is approved, I will be able to write a bit more about the project I am currently embarking on - but it does relate very directly to issues of harm and shame, and what we can do about it.

Rachel is in her mid thirties, living in London, thriving it seems and returning to an idyllic Greek island for her summer holiday. She is at first glance, living the sort of comfortable life that we all hope for in the London rat-race. We join Rachel in the first person. This means that we come to understand her sense of self, memories and love for Alistair through her inner dialogue. As readers we are up close to her thinking and this will likely make Girls of Summer an unexpectedly poignant and disquieting read for many of its readers. As we learn about Rachel's current perspective on her first love, it may resonate with our own complex early encounters with consent and shame. How common it is for this to came up against the desire to have had the genuine, authentic and hopeful experiences we all deserve to hope for in those heady years of adolescence and beyond. How understandable it is that Rachel chose to continue to view her relationship through the lens of fantasy in order to protect herself from the trauma of the reality.

The level of detail in Rachel's memories conjures the 90s and 00s coming of age zeitgeist in a way that made me both nostalgic and at points, quite sad for the general -state-of-the-world-and-how-awful-things-were-so-normalised.

It reminds me how, in many ways it is still normalised. It reminds me of the innovative ways that survivors have reclaimed their power against the dominant discourse that normalises rape culture with movements like If things were so different now perhaps these movements wouldn't have to exist. So for that reason I am challenging the 'it-was-different-back-then' thought that just sprung to mind. The truth is the culture remains and young people coming of age today face the same challenges as ever, just perhaps in occasionally different guises.

Rachel has never once considered herself a victim - until now - publisher's summary.

I was struck by the clever tension that builds in this story, it is in the end a tension that builds in the reframing of Rachel's story as she makes sense of her past self and her current ideas about who she is with relation to that past. I don't want to give too much of the book away, let's leave the spoilers for tiktok.

What I will say that The Girls of Summer works because it connects with something very important, to all of us, whether we are ready to admit it or not.

This important thing is: do we dare to revise our understanding of our past experiences if these involve admitting to ourselves, that perhaps, at some point we may have been harmed by the actions and minds of people we thought we could trust?

That question is at the heart of all interpersonal traumas, and it is a frightening question to confront. In Rachel's case, I found myself advocating for her to come to terms with her experiences by facing the darker corners and being honest with herself. Why did this feel important? Well, for one thing, because Katie Bishop astutely crafts a tale in which if Rachel doesn't become aware, however painful that may be, she is at risk of coming to further harm.

This is why, in therapy, we aim to safely support the realisation that it is possible to have been harmed but also to not be to blame, and also that whilst some people may be capable of harming others this is not the case universally.

It's a hard journey, not an easy one but it's a harder journey to remain stuck, reliving the impact of a bad person's decisions.

It comes down to this: the people who choose to harm others, they are always 100% to blame and it is the mis-attribution of blame to the self that exacerbates trauma. I've seen it in my practice and it fills me with compassionate rage on behalf of my clients and a fierce protectiveness that I believe we all deserve to feel for each other and ourselves.

If this book, or indeed this review of the book, has stirred things up for you, please know that you are not alone and are not to blame. I have included some links below, in case you would like to find further support. In the UK your local IAPT is a great place to self-refer in the first instance.

For readers who are not in the UK, it may be helpful to check out your local supports - usually a trusted GP can help you with this if you are unsure.

The main thing to understand is that you are looking for someone who is

1) non judgemental

2) preferably trained in an evidence based trauma approach (avoid wishy washy trauma people who aren't trained)

3) earns your trust (it's OK for this to take a bit of time).

If you have made it this far in this post, I appreciate it. Please do let me know if you enjoy my writing or found this useful in any way.

Eve x


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