Breath In The Dark – A Childhood Lost


Breath In The Dark – A Childhood Lost
By Jane Hersey
Matador/Troubador – £7.99

‘’‘’Please don’t die. Please come back.’’’’ The tears flooded down my face, as I repeated the words; the car door opened and I got in. Something wanted to make me shout, ‘’Dad, help us.’’ I knew I must have had a father, but I didn’t know if I was different and there had never been one, not knowing or being able to understand […]. My mind went blank, at the same time something inside me was screaming. Who am I? What am I? Who do I belong to now?’’

Writing about childhood can sometimes be quite tough, even if just from the premise of trying to remember. Writing about a difficult childhood can be tougher still, even if just from the premise of deciding what to include and what to leave out. Writing about a childhood that is fraught with the regularity of haunting darkness and abuse, might, in some instances, be deemed impossible; even if just from the premise of either wanting to move on or simply forget.

That the disturbing, yet heartbreakingly moving Breath In The Dark – A Childhood Lost, substantiates the fact that one is never able to truly forget, but is (perhaps just about) able, in the big scheme of this thing we endeavour to call life, able to move on; is reason enough to read and embrace this powerful book like no other. Well not many anyway.

Within these 329 pages, authoress Jane Hersey writes with an authority that is simply drenched in the trauma of the almost, unspeakable truth. The truth being that of a traumatised and isolated child in 1960s Manchester, having not only suffered grotesque emotional abuse, but also physical/sexual abuse by what sounds like a despicable father.

Just what is it with the cruelty of some men – of a certain era, of a certain disposition – that have absolutely no understanding of life whatsoever? Nothing that is, other than that of their own hideous, ludicrous, selfish needs.

Surely it can’t all be down to that most reliable of old chestnuts: lack of education?

It is just such contemptuous bollocks that Hersey herein subliminally addresses (although I’m sure it wasn’t her prime intent). So much so, that I found myself questioning human nature to such a didactic degree, that it suddenly dawned on me how very little of it has changed. But I digress…

As a six year old child within the sole care of a mother who suffers with not only diabetes and clinical depression, but also has a very serious eating disorder, the young Jewish Jane was ostracized by her own brethren, as well as the local community at large. But with an abounding love for her mother, the young child was armed with more reasoning, more empathy, and more compassion than ought to be allowed at such a young age: ‘’It wasn’t what I had planned for her. It wasn’t a party. It wasn’t laid out on the plates I had brought for her. We weren’t eating it together, enjoying it. I watched, not knowing what to do to keep her awake. I didn’t know how to make her want to live. I was almost seven now, and I knew I wasn’t enough […]. I desperately wanted to fill the place of the people who were missing from her life: I was trying to be mother, father and husband to her. If only I could be all these people, I was thinking to myself.’’

Are such thoughts normal for that of a six-year-old little girl?

What with the recent exposure on the (supposed) indecent and deplorable behaviour of Jimmy Saville, and the crooked hypocrisy Christmas nigh upon us, this book really, really couldn’t have come at a better time.

Breath In The Dark may not be particularly festive reading, but it’s a thousand times more important, more valid, and in a way, more beautiful, than anything you’re likely to come across this side of the appalling Queen’s Speech.

David Marx


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