I normally read writers in chronological order, but with Robert i started on his fifth book, ‘The Toy Makers’, then his fourth book, ‘Gingerbread’, and now i’ve just finished this, ‘Little Exiles’, his third book.
A chronologically back to front experience, but one that i’m very happy to have taken.
To say that Robert’s writing is heavy going emotionally would be a little understated. Each of the three books above deals with trauma and the after effects of it upon one of the main characters and how that also affects those close to them. In ‘The Toy Makers’ the trauma is introduced half way through the book, in ‘Gingerbread’ it’s slowly revealed incrementally as we go through the story, but in ‘Little Exiles’ it begins with the trauma. And each traumatic experience is very different.
Now some might shy away from these kinds of tales, just wanting to spend their time on pleasant reading experiences. Which is fine, if that’s your thing. But you would be missing out greatly in not only some incredibly well written and constructed story telling, but also missing out on understanding how trauma really affects people and brings chaos to their lives and those around them. Is it not incumbent upon all of us to attempt to understand what people who are suffering from PTSD are going through and through that beginning of understanding gleaned from the pages of a fictional story begin to find some compassion towards people who may need a little extra from us?
Someone once said to me that they never read fiction because it’s just make believe nonsense. I disagree. In good works of fiction, like Robert’s books, we can see into lives that aren’t constrained by shame, guilt and privacy, but are simply laid bare upon the pages for all to see. And in fiction we are given a look inside places that non-fiction dares not tread.
And sadly, this is not all fiction. The underlying story of this book is true. Children were taken from the UK and shipped off around the Empire to populate those places we invaded to make them more English — because if there’s more of us there then we obviously have more claim upon it. No thought as to the rights of those children were given and no one really cared what ultimately happened to them. They were just shipped off to places like Australia as though they were convicts and used however the colonial authorities saw fit to use them.
And we harp on about having an inquiry into child sex abuse in the UK, but at no point is anyone talking of having an inquiry into the overall abuse of children that has occurred here historically. Children who were physically and psychologically abused, or simply stolen from their families to populate the Empire, just don’t seem to matter. It’s very clear that the government is sending out a message that as long as no one touched your genitals then the abuse doesn’t count — the government simply isn’t interested in what a great many children suffered because the government is fully aware that it was complicit in it.
Luckily we’ve come a long way since the Victorian times and their attitudes to children that permeated our society well into the 1900’s. But i do feel we still have a long way to go. No child should ever have to suffer abuse of any kind, and that needs to be fully recognised.
Anyway, if you still haven’t got around to reading any of Robert’s books, then do please give them a go. I would definitely recommend starting with ‘The Toy Makers’ and working back from there.