“I wander down to Roman ruins. There is a bench and I sit down…
A man sits down on the bench beside me, a small round man with a bald head.
– Ma guarda quei gatti. He points and I follow the line of his finger to where two cats are mating.
– Gurda come le paice, alla gattacia. Look at how much she likes it, the filthy she-cat…
– Anche tu gridi cosi? Do you also scream like that? I don’t reply.
He takes my hand and leads me to a crowded caffe across the road where he orders a grappa standing up at the counter. By now his arm is around my waist. He pays, drinks, and guides me to his car parked nearby. We get inside. He pulls me to him, already busy unbuttoning his fly, then pushes my head to his lap. I hear him gasp as he fills my mouth.
Before he is spent we are interrupted by a traffic policeman who knocks officiously on the window and tells us to move on. The man drives a short way to a park with a lake. From a public telephone booth he phones a friend and arranges to borrow his apartment for the afternoon. In exchange, he says, the friend can also have some fun.” (pg. 57)
This is not a usual book about abuse and the abused. This book chronicles pains in an interesting way. The point of view switches from the first person to second person personal pronouns to accommodate layers of horrors. It does not beg for cheap sympathy. Stories similar to Anna P’s are often cheaply relatable, they prematurely bleed you of strength and emotion. You don’t ask for a full narrative if your sister runs home abused, you lurch to avenge. Such is the common response stories of abuse glean from you. When they lack depth, they still spur you to act. The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself is rather deep. It does not exert immediate response from the reader. It tasks the reader’s patience as it plunges the reader into the grim quiddity of Anna P’s life. With an efficient POV that runs in media res, Penny Busetto seems to worsen Anna P's victimhood. She pulls her about. In the Book of the Present, I loathed Anna P. She cuts across as dull, soft and pliable. Everything grows on her. Any stranger could dig into her cone, anytime, anywhere (see. pg. 41-42). She is empty. Her utter emptiness reminds one of Michael K in J.M Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K. Anna P was beginning to repulse me until I understood her in the Book of Memory. In the Book of Memory, her story wrenches the heart. Book of the Future is a cul-de-sac. There, Anna P’s freedom edgily stretches her.
When the Sugabelly-Audu narrative broke more than a month ago, we mocked her. We wished her back to her hellhole. What kind of a girl gets serially abused and still stays in it? We rationalized and questioned. This is one of the ways we attack the abused. This is crazy. We are mad. There is a clear similarity between the Sugabelly-Audu saga and Anna P’s. Psychological troubles are often generally misunderstood. We are stupidly quick to label them unusual. This world is reeking of many unashamed predators. The sooner we know this, the better for the emotionally tarred. Anna P’s mother is clueless and Anna P bears the brunt.
In a simple yet assured prose, Penny Busetto bares the most dampened part of the human soul. With a character floating between loss and amnesia, The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself investigates the extremity of sexual trauma. The life of this character is disturbing. Anna P freely lives on the pages, she does not give a F about the world. She does not take herself seriously. She does not wallow in the bespoke grief life causes the abused. She lives on a routine. Her life is a timetable. She seems not to need the world even as she yearns for it in Sabrina and Ugo. With a sedentary teaching job, Anna P lives a terribly lonely life as she is torn between worlds, between her past South Africa and present Italy.
“I am not sure any more how I ended up here on the island. I think I came to see the ruins and forgot to go back. The local school needed an English teacher and I was asked to stand in until the Ministry in Rome appointed someone.
But that was twenty years ago…
I am always filled with a yearning for something I can’t put my finger on or understand. At times the pain is so great that I wish I were a man and could pay a woman to hold me for a few hours, to make it pass. My body longs to be held and comforted, to know the warmth and softness of touch.” (pg. ix)
I am always wary of literatures that further stereotypical stories of places and their people. The Story of Anna P as, Told by Herself does that bad with the Italians. Most of the Italians appear daft. They are shown as bereft of simple civilities. In this book, sex wafts around unashamedly in Italy. This thickens the common discourse of Italy’s pervasive sexual bestiality. Nearly every male character in this book is a sexual predator. This is bad. From the hotelier, Ispettore Lupo, the stranger on the street, the random lift giver, and to Signor Cappi, everybody pines for Anna P’s sweet pile. This book tends to a subtle but destructive vilification of Italians. That one may consider this kind of narrative normal shows how insidious a single narrative could be.
Also, I find Anna P’s diary useless as she suffers amnesia. Isn’t a diary a sort of a reminder? In her Friday 9 November entry, she writes of buying a knife. A week after (Friday 16 November), she laments not knowing how she comes about the knife. And I began to wonder: does she write in scattered pages; can’t she flip through her diary to rescue herself; what’s the point of keeping a diary if not to help memory?
“Friday 9 November
How much is it? I gesture towards the knife.
She names the price, doubled I am sure because of what she perceives is an English accent, the illusion of foreign wealth. I accept and draw out the money. She wraps the knife carefully first in tissue paper, then in wedding gift wrap, white with silver wedding bells and the words Tanti Auguri, Congratulations, repeated over and over…” (pg. 45)
Memory fails her here:
“Friday 16 November
I open my handbag and catch sight of a small parcel wrapped in white-and-silver paper. For some reason the sight bothers me. Without removing it from my bag I unwrap. Inside it is a knife. I touch it, running my hand along the handle, touching the hard cold blade. I wonder where it comes from.” (pg. 57)
What is the point of the diary please? This is the issue I have with the diary.
The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself is an interesting book. Read it.