“Dancing with the Octopus” by Debora Harding – a memoir of a true crime and an abusive childhood

Dancing with the Octopus by Debora Harding is a memoir and also a true crime story at the same time. The author was abducted and assaulted as a teenager and was left for dead but she also had a family history of abuse and ineffective parenting. As an adult she has the opportunity to be part of a restorative justice programme with the perpetrator of her kidnapping and as a result of this she has to re-examine her childhood and the effect that it has had on her as an adult. The result is a fascinating memoir told from an unusual angle.

The author tells the story in a series of episodes from various times in her life as her journey into her past brings things to her mind. It could be confusing but it is actually carefully written so that you understand that what we experience and remember is an amalgam of various things and also that the long-term consequences of trauma and abuse can be as devastating as the immediate effects.

The fact that the author was prepared to meet her abductor again in adulthood shows tremendous courage but the book does show that this type of programme is not always successful for the victim. Her kidnapper feels that the process has somehow lessened the importance of his crime. The author found that she was unsatisfied because the impact it had on her was not fully acknowledged. It’s an interesting insight into something which is becoming more common.

The author escaped her childhood and her disintegrating family to make a good adult life and to be in a position to write her memoir. I have read a number like this but always think of the people lost in this type of experience who can’t escape and who are unable to share their stories. This book reminded me a bit of The Three of Us by Julia Blackburn which I review here. That review also contains links to several other memoirs of people who had abusive or difficult childhoods. The author is now married to Thomas Harding who wrote The House by the Lake which I review here and which is an interesting bit of social history.

If you enjoy reading memoirs and find true crime fascinating I recommend this book which is readable and very moving in places.

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