Words Can Describe

Issue section: 

Abi Grant, Picador; £11.99

To be honest, I didn't really want to read this book. I rather crassly assumed it would be little more than another misery memoir. But little by little the book moved on from the act of rape itself to a wider discussion of the author's life and her experiences.

What emerged was a story of the damage caused by a dysfunctional family, a random act of violence, a sexualised and sexist society, and a battle with the structures of the state for the help and support necessary to rebuild a functioning life.

What was surprising and a bit unexpected was the way in which things that are often demonised in the press were shown as fundamental to her recovery. Rarely have I come across a depiction of someone living in a one-bed council flat on incapacity benefit shown in such a positive, life-affirming light.

"The worst thing about living in council housing is that you're all on top of each other. It's also the best thing. If anything happened to me and I screamed out of a window, fifty people would hear."

She finds herself connecting with the caretaker, Louis, "who's in his early forties, loves science fiction and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is a complete joy". This made me think about the important social role caretakers play. Yet councils are trying to cut or underplay this service.

In the final section of the book she deals with the trial of the man who attacked her, 12 years after the event, and details just how hard it is for women to get a conviction in the British courts. At the time of the trial, conviction rates in rape cases were running at around 5 percent. They are hardly any higher today.

As an articulate, white, professional woman who was attacked in her own home by a total stranger, her case should have been more straightforward than most, but even in this "textbook" case she found herself attacked in court and her sexual history and that of her flatmate called into doubt.

But despite the horrible thing that happened to her, she always manages to place it within a much wider context.

She maintains it is impossible for women to get meaningful justice "as long as it's acceptable to routinely portray women, both inside and outside court, as self-serving sluts whose primary value lies in their body parts".

If I had one gentle criticism to make, it would perhaps be that she doesn't always seem to make explicit the link between the role of the family in society and the very problems she goes on to describe in such detail. Nevertheless, I'm really glad I read this book.