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Blade in the Shadow - Review by Ann Rawson

We are delighted to announce our next memoir Blade in the Shadow by Jillian Halket. Release date is 14 October 2021.

We're equally delighted to share with you our first early review - written by the always lovely Ann Rawson.

Blade in the Shadow

Ann Rawson

In the Art of Memoir, Mary Karr wrote: "In some ways, writing a memoir is knocking yourself out with your own fist, if it's done right." By this measure, Jillian Halket’s debut memoir, Blade in the Shadow, has surely been done right.

Her account of growing up with a form of OCD characterised by intrusive thoughts is a heart-breaking but compelling read.

From the very first chapter, the poetical prose, dripping with luscious metaphor, draws us in to sharing her experience. Dreams and waking visions filled with shocking violence stalk every page. Jillian details the rituals through which she tries, and often fails, to hold these horrors at bay.

Even though these nightmare experiences are beautifully evoked, it’s hard to imagine just how terrifying it must have been to live through, especially before diagnosis.

The narrative traces Jillian’s journey, from seventeen-year-old girl attempting to still her mind with superstition, strange rituals with cutlery and self-medication with alcohol, through school and University to adulthood and diagnosis.

Every stage of the growing up process – friendship and relationships, clubbing and work, is made so much more painful by the worsening symptoms, the hallucinatory episodes, the drinking. Jillian finds herself in more and more frightening real life situations through her attempts to blot out the visions. The very real trauma of abusive sexual experience becomes almost as nothing compared with the way her own mind torments her.

Not being able to talk about it to anyone, the fear that speaking about it will repel others, show her to be dirty and worthless, and somehow will make the visions come true, lies at the heart of the issue. These fears will resonate with readers who have survived any kind of trauma.

This inability to be open is surely one of the most damaging aspects of this form of OCD. It keeps the people who love her at a distance. It means the doctor she first speaks to has no idea how to help her. It feeds into the anxiety and compulsive rituals.

Halket mentions that OCD, like so many other disorders, is caused by a complex mixture of nature and nurture, genes and environment. I would have been interested to read more of an exploration of this aspect, but I can see that it might not have fitted easily into this form of narrative.

Blade in the Shadow does not fall into the trite self-help trope of “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or claim that the “gifts” the OCD brings make all the pain worthwhile, but comes to a more realistic and yet optimistic conclusion. It’s a memoir full of endurance, hope and love. The turning point comes with the meeting with Dr Helen, whose therapy does not promise cure, but teaches how to manage and live with the OCD.

“There are all kinds of ways to live a life,” Halket concludes in the last chapter – a useful and life-affirming reminder for us all.

Blade in the Shadow is a searing, honest and courageous memoir, and I look forward to reading more from Jillian Halket.

* * *

Ann Rawson's debut novel, A Savage Art, inspired by her love of textile arts and dark fairy tales, was published by Fahrenheit Press in 2016. Her first short story, ‘A Dog's Life’, appears in Me Too Stories edited by Elizabeth Zelvin and published by Level Best Books. Another piece, ‘If…’ was shortlisted for the Fish Short Memoir prize 2019. Her short story ‘Too Much Tea’ appears in Stories About Penises anthology (Guts Publishing, 2019). Ann’s second novel, The Witch House, was published by Red Dog Press in August 2020.

Visit Ann Rawson on Facebook and Twitter.

Pre-order Blade in the Shadow from Guts Publishing here:

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