By Deb Kandelaars
Published by Wakefield Press, 2011
This short novel is set in the late 70’s/early 80’s and is literally peppered with music and pop culture references from the era. The suburban girl of the title is probably one to whom many a Generation X reader can relate – she lives in the suburbs, works in a rather nondescript job by day and enjoys a disco at night. The enjoyable trip down memory lane (complete with references to Holdens and Datsuns, Kambrook curling wands and Kavli biscuits) stops abruptly for the reader as the tale of the girl’s burgeoning relationship with a much older and violent man begins.
Whilst marketed as a work of fiction, the book is based on the real life story of Kandelaars. It is not an easy or pleasant read, with Kandelaars graphically depicting all the irrationality and ugliness of an abusive relationship. After reading the press, I was hoping the book would offer me some insight into the reasons women stay with violent men. It soon became apparent that Memoirs of a Suburban Girl was not going to provide me with definitive understanding. Sadly, the story becomes somewhat cyclical and a pattern emerges of the suburban girl enduring abuse after abuse. Rather than empathise with the protagonist, it becomes increasingly difficult for the reader to forge a relationship with the suburban girl except for a rather odd emotional detachment. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the novel is written in the second person, which is distancing and leaves the reader feeling as if they are observing the characters from afar.
Inexplicably, the second person narration becomes compelling and the reader surmises that using this technique may indeed be the only way in which the author could have shared her disturbing history. Disturbing it is. This is not a book for younger teens, it would, however, be appropriate for senior students. It would be an excellent related text for the English Area of Study ‘Belonging’ for NSW Higher School Certificate students. Kandelaars is a talented author and there are many techniques for HSC students to discuss, such as how the choice of second person narration creates a sense of detachment and alienation, illustrating the extent to which the suburban girl does not belong in her chosen environment.
Recommended for ages 16+