SUMMARY – The 10-second review
Memoir – Moving and honest – Insights into the long-term effects of childhood abuse without sensationalism – Very well written and engaging.
Just Ignore Him is a memoir about Alan Davies’ childhood and teenage years. In the opening pages we learn that he was only 6 years old when his mother died and that, from the age of about 8, he was abused by his father. This book is both an account of Davies’ day-to-day life — as he tries to get by, adapt, fit in and find friendship and love where he can — and a study of how abusers manipulate their victims. It’s an engrossing, sad, funny and horribly serious book. And warrants nothing less that a serious review. I’ll attempt to do it justice.
A painful story, beautifully told
It’s sad that Davies’ lost his mother at a very young age. It’s heartbreaking that this seminal experience was deeply entangled with other even worse events. In Just Ignore Him, Alan Davies reveals the profound effects of enduring childhood sexual abuse, opening up a door that most victims keep well shut, forever.
It’s a very brave thing to do and — at the risk of overstepping the invisible ‘black humour’ line — is worthy of a good round of applause at the very least. But I wonder if I’ll ever be able to enjoy QI again, especially with Alan being the butt of everyone’s jokes. Like how Top Gear suddenly became unfunny after Jeremy punched a producer in the face. This shit just got serious.
Just Ignore Him is a surprise in so many ways. Of course a revelation of child abuse would always come as a surprise, wouldn’t it? You suddenly need to reevaluate your impression of that person. When it’s a celebrity, you have to adjust to seeing them as a real person rather than a Personality. It’s also a surprise because it’s Not Something One Talks About, is it? Really, it’s Not Nice. (Note: Davies uses this stylistic device of capitalizing words with great effect, particularly when highlighting the clichés many of us grew up with. I love it.)
It’s remarkable how well Davies’ expresses the psychological effects of child abuse without laboring the point or expounding on the topic. Instead, it’s implied through vignettes, images and fantasies.
Silence, shame and denial
For example, he daydreams of reporting his father to the police, only for them to call his father to come and get him instead of taking him seriously, illustrating the inescapability of abuse.
Child abuse is horrendous to contemplate so we all conspire in the fiction that it doesn’t happen. Or not much. Not to anyone we know and certainly not to ‘you’. Or at best, “not any more”. It’s rare, we say, or it’s over and done with and for your own sake you need to stop thinking about it and move on. The conspiracy of secrecy, the enforced silence, the muzzling of the victim, starts with the molester (“our little secret”), is maintained by the victim and by the family, and is perpetuated by society. It’s a brave soul who tells another adult, a friend, a teacher, a therapist. A lawyer. It’s an even braver soul who puts it in a book.
Today, thanks to these brave people, the world is learning more about childhood abuse (and indeed other forms of domestic abuse). Most children don’t tell. Grooming, seduction and/or threats ensure the victim’s silence. Shame nourishes the silence. Victims fear or instinctively know they will not be believed or helped if they speak up. Those who tell, whether at the time or later in life, are [often? usually? always?] not believed. They may be said to have exaggerated, misremembered or lied. Be accused of Trying To Get Attention. Be told to “Stop looking for notice!”
The accused is defended; “There’s no way he did that, no way. I know him. No way.” And so the accuser is abused again. Silenced. Ignored.
This is how victims become deadened. Reality is denied. They are prevented from speaking to others and indeed even from voicing it to themselves. Unable to fight back, unable to react. Unable to even think about it. Unable to avoid the abuser, even into adulthood. Forced to interact civilly with their abuser again and again and again, in order to sustain the fiction that Nothing Ever Happened. The powerlessness thus engendered can be a lifelong condition.
“When I took my daughter, aged two, to his house for a visit, I went out on to the patio to take a phone call about work and while I was gone she approached her grandad in his armchair because he was stroking a Yorkshire terrier. The dog jumped forward and bit her in the face. When I came back into the room seconds later he remained in his chair with the dog on his lap while my little girl stood to one side crying, with blood streaming from her cheek. It pains me to this day that I failed to protect her from him. I’ve always been unable to maintain boundaries around myself in the face of his various behaviours but to leave her alone with him, even for a minute, was a disastrous mistake. There is, thankfully, no scar. The only consequence is that my daughter is scared of dogs, but not grandfathers.”Alan Davies, Just Ignore Him, Chapter 18 – Songs
Just another day at home
Some readers might find it surprising that the grief and abuse described in this book are woven seamlessly into daily life. It’s both awful and just plain… ORDINARY. This isn’t a dramatic story of monsters in the dark. It’s bereavement and ‘special cuddles’ and casual verbal and psychological abuse interspersed with teatimes and holidays and football jerseys and nicking comics at the newsagent and Terry Wogan on Radio 2. But that’s what’s so awful about incestuous sexual abuse, isn’t it? It’s domestic, in the home, in that so-called place of safety.
We are learning these days that sexual abuse of children is rife, not only in the home within families, but anywhere where adults have access to and authority over children. Just Ignore Him doesn’t shock with violent, graphic descriptions of abuse. It shocks by reminding you of the everyday prevalence and ordinariness of it.
Wonderful writing, with his trademark humour
Another surprise is that Just Ignore Him is so beautifully written. (How we judge people without knowing them at all!) It’s technically accomplished in terms of structure, pacing and narrative balance. The narrative style is intimate and rambling, like a conversation with a friend. It’s moving and clever, and it resounds with Davies’ voice and personality. Both the public personality we know and the one we knew nothing about. It’s so easy to picture him as a little boy — he still has so much boyish fun and enthusiasm in him.
It’s NOT surprising that this book is funny. Funny in a wonderfully understated, deadpan, sarcastic way with occasional bursts of schoolboy silliness. Just like he is on the telly.
I don’t like so-called misery memoirs, usually, and I’m glad that this doesn’t qualify as one, albeit it’s about a pretty miserable childhood. But Davies doesn’t sensationalize his past, doesn’t wallow in his pain. He’s not playing the sympathy card. (You see what I’m doing here? I’m not immune from the tendency to translate my discomfort into avoidance and distaste for the victim rather than anger at the perpetrator. Nobody likes a whinger. Better to ignore them.) And so for all the sadness, it’s an easy book to read, even to enjoy, oddly. You leave it feeling that Davies has let you in, revealed himself. It leaves you grateful to him for the trust, rather than repulsed by the story.
And as another reviewer has said, it most of all makes you want to wrap that wayward child in a great, big, warm hug.
All in all, this is a beautiful, intimate, unforgettable and brave book. Just ‘wow’, really.
Find Just Ignore Him on Amazon and at other bookstores.
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