Warning: This post contains reference to sexual and physical abuse and might be upsetting to some readers.
On the first page of The Incest Diary, Anonymous writes, “In the fairy tales about father-daughter incest… the daughters are all as you would expect them to be: horrified by their fathers’ sexual advances.
“They do everything in their power to escape. But I didn’t. A child can’t escape. And later, when I could, it was too late. My father controlled my mind, my body, my desire. I wanted him. I went home. I went back for more.”
She was raped by her father for the first time when she was three years old, and for the last time when she was 21.
In most synopses of the book, they refer to her “sexual relationship with her father,” a phrase which struck me in its peculiarity.
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But this book is not called The Rape Diary. Or The Child Sexual Abuse Diary. Or The Molestation Diary. Instead, the author chooses to face us with a word that inspires universal revulsion: incest.
Incest implies consent. A symbiotic sexual relationship between two people who are related by blood. Within an incestuous relationship, the lines between perpetrator and victim are blurred.
The Incest Diary is not a retrospective redemption story. It offers little perspective. There is no linear narrative, whereby she discovers her victimhood and is finally liberated from her past. There is no moment of empowerment. Her job is not to analyse her story while she tells it. She presents it – the complex, messy, sometimes contradictory tale of what was at once her abuse and her sexual awakening.
She does not know her body, nor sex, without her father. It is no wonder her sexuality is inextricably and perhaps eternally tied to him.
He is her greatest pain and her most intense pleasure. The man who she most fears and most desires.
There was the time in the bathtub when she was only a small child, and she remembers the water turning red with blood. He had raped her and she felt as though she was torn in two.
And then there was the last time they had sex at the family beach house. As she lay in bed, she waited for him to open the door. She wished him to.
“My body was pure sex," she writes, in characteristically truncated and firm sentences. "My father had made himself a sexual object for me, too. I objectified him as I objectified myself for him. I had an orgasm bigger than any single one I had in my subsequent 12-year marriage.”
They didn't speak to each other. Not a word. And in the 18 years she was abused by him, they never once kissed on the lips.
The perfect metaphor for their relationship is embodied in the vignette where he ties her to a chair. She is scared, but she knows not to scream. He will eventually come and untie her. She finishes the chapter with, "How could I not love the man who set me free?" Never mind that he was also the man who tied her up.
There is something shocking on every page of The Incest Diary. It reads like a stream of consciousness reflection on everything that has happened to her, oscillating between time periods, and recalling small, specific, horrifying memories - that she does not necessarily perceive as such.
Alexis Kirschbaum, Bloomsbury's publishing director, has described the book as "the most disturbing book I have ever read."
"It is not only because of the nature of the abuse the author recounts. It is because the author’s account is a chronicle of pleasure. I am very uncomfortable with that. I know now that it is a symptom of her abuse, and it is perhaps the most unbearable symptom there is, to find pleasure in what essential destroys you."
Anonymous is sometimes euphemistically 'molested', and other times 'f*cked'. There are passages that are so graphic, they almost read like something out of Fifty Shades. One critic describes the language as "porn lingo", and some have accused the text of being child pornography.
One is forced to ask a few pages in; Am I meant to feel aroused? Or disgusted?
And are we asking the same questions she did?
"My father is my secret," she reveals early on.
"That he raped me is my secret. But the secret under the secret is that sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I wanted it, and sometimes I seduced him.”
The shame and guilt harboured by survivors is so searingly complex. The guilt isn't always over what they were wearing, or thinking they implicitly courted their abuser.
The shame can be that their body reacted. Or they lost themselves. Or they loved as passionately as they hated.
Arousal is an involuntary response. Pleasure can be a feature of abuse and there ought to be space for that in the survivor narrative.
Upon putting the book down, after having read all 132 pages, I had a profound impulse to go and wash my hands.
Who is this book for? I asked myself. As someone who has never been abused by a family member, was The Incest Diary really something I should have read?
The answer, I decided, was yes. We owe it to Anonymous to bare witness to her pain, and to not turn away when she decides to perceive her life through the prism of desire rather than the prism of abuse.
According to an exhaustive global study published in 2011, nearly 13 per cent of women are the victim of childhood sexual abuse by a parent or caregiver.
It is not our place to judge Anonymous, or accuse The Incest Diary of being distasteful or inappropriate.
This happened to her, and we ought to listen.
If this story has brought up any issues for you, help is available. The Bravehearts support line can be accessed by anyone wanting information or support regarding child sexual assault. Free call, 1800 272 831.