'Girl A' review: Writer's choice to not focus on gruesome particulars makes this an interesting read
The author shares her thoughts on what went into the making of her bestseller.
Abigail Dean’s exquisitely crafted psychological thriller, Girl A has been welcomed with thunderous applause and record sales. The protagonist, Lex Gracie, who saves herself and her siblings who have endured unspeakable trauma, is a fascinating character. The creative choice made by Dean not to focus on the gruesome particulars of what went down in that ‘house of horrors’ but on the far-reaching effects of abuse and its prolonged impact on the psyche of victims has paid off and the screen rights have gone to Sony. The author shares her thoughts on what went into the making of her bestseller.
What led to this book?
I’m very interested in true crime, but one of the questions I’ve always wondered is: what happens next? There is often a lot of media attention on a particular case or crime, to the extent that certain photographs or buildings acquire an odd infamy. But for the people actually affected by those events, there are so many months and years and decades after: how do people live then? In Girl A, I wanted to explore that quieter time, which is so often hidden from the public view.
The dynamics between the siblings is complicated. Do walk us through your process of peeling back the layers of their collective psyches.
Creating the different dynamics between the Gracie siblings was one of the best things about writing Girl A. They may have grown up in difficult, traumatic circumstances, but they share the same alliances, rivalries and barbs as any other siblings. Lex loves her older brother Ethan despite questions about his complicity in their parents’ abuse. As the oldest of the siblings, they bonded as children over books, over their love of school—and it’s that old allegiance that makes Lex stick by Ethan, despite the fact that he’s become a very questionable adult.
Girl A was refreshingly non-judgmental but to what extent do you think individual folly and broken systems are responsible for all the societal evils?
I’m glad that you found Girl A non-judgmental. It’s crucial for me to have characters who feel like real people, and real human beings are rarely simply good or evil. I don’t have sympathy for every character in Girl A, but I try to have some understanding for each of them, however misguided their actions become. There are many moments in Girl A where the community is complicit in ignoring the children’s suffering—where people try to step in, but fail to do enough—but that’s not intended to be judgmental, either. I don’t have the confidence to assume I would act differently. It was one of the things I found most uncomfortable, writing the book, and I think it’s a question for each reader to ask themselves.
Do share a glimpse into the next book you are working on. It is eagerly awaited…
My second novel follows two characters in the aftermath of an attack: one loses her mother in the atrocity, and the other believes that the whole thing was a hoax, and sets out to disprove it. Like Girl A, it deals with themes of trauma behind the headlines, and with the different perspectives of different characters, just as the Gracie siblings each remember their childhood in a slightly different way.