Reviewed by Clare Brook
We are all familiar with inequality that plagues our society; the grind of everyday life faced by those trapped within a low socio-economic environment. We are aware of the unequal treatment, and often abuse, that many women suffer. But there is a big difference between knowing and actually feeling the reality, the lived experience. Kathryn Heyman was born and raised in a swag of dysfunction; because of this, and the fact that Kathryn is now an accomplished writer, she can take the reader to a deeper level of understanding. Fury is a memoir of her early life, a life that was routinely disrupted by male predators.
The first few pages are acclamations from known authors and journalists such as: Anna Funder, Jennifer Byrne and Debra Adelaide, all of whom praise Kathryn for her literary ability and her bravery standing against a huge communal problem. Sadly, none of these authors is a man. I do wish the publishers had sought accolades from the many male commentators who are willing to stand apart and criticize abusive behaviour.
The structure of this memoir hurdles in and out of various time frames emerging on the page as scattered, neurotic thoughts. At first, it is puzzling, but then it becomes clear that Kathryn is taking the reader into her adolescent troubled mind as memories surface then fade into a hazy history. She is trying to make sense of the world and piece together her past from a young adult’s perspective.
Kathryn’s saving grace was her love of words; she was dux of her year, so clearly an intelligent being. This would be an accomplishment in a middle-class setting where education is valued from an early age, but from Kathryn’s position it was a triumph. But it wasn’t enough to put her on the right path. So many other obstacles came her way not least of which was being raped by a taxi driver. The ensuing courtroom appearance followed the nauseatingly normal pattern: she was not a ‘good’ girl, too drunk, provocatively dressed, sexually promiscuous, university drop out (with two part-time jobs), and a casual drug user. It did not go well for Kathryn.
Kathryn understood she had to get away from everything she knew, but with no money and no guidance, her options were limited. Readers follow her harrowing flight from poverty to the Timor Sea to be employed on a trawler, Ocean Thief, in the company of four honourable men. After an encounter with a school of White Pointers following the trawler for its discarded prey, Karl points out to the skipper who had witnessed a mate’s leg being removed by a member of that genus: …you can’t blame a whole species for that. From Karl’s wisdom, Kathryn draws an analogy from her experience with the crew comparing them to other men in her life:
Four men … and not one of them intending to do me harm. Not because I was sober, and not because I was not wearing silky underwear. Not because of anything I did or did not do. I simply was not their prey.
Hard work and extreme danger on the Ocean Thief dismantle her mind, bringing into focus many harrowing encounters that had been buried, no doubt guarding her mental health in the process; a little person can only face so much truth. Self-belief and a restoration from the inside out take place. Kathryn comes to understand who she is in the world apart from her vulnerable working class background.
Kathryn’s elegant prose carries the reader into her world; there is not much to criticize here – perhaps too many references to a love of words producing a ‘mouth watering’ effect in the first section. The memoir ends too sharply as Kathryn disembarks from the Ocean Thief a newly formed young adult ready to begin again. The following all too brief denouement of two pages only hints at her future life. I think readers will want to read more about Kathryn’s progression from the Timor Sea to Oxford University, to becoming a prize-winning author and now Honorary Professor in Humanities at the University of Newcastle.
Fury is a sad, brave, and ultimately triumphant, memoir that I hope will help many working class and abused girls to be the heroine of their own lives.
A memoir that needs to be included on school reading lists!
By Kathryn Heyman
Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 978 17605 2937 6
$29.99 [pb]; 328pp