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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 6 May 2018

"See what I have done" by Sarah Schmidt

This is a "reimagining" of the Lizzie Borden axe murder case from 1892. The history is that Lizzie's step-mother and father were murdered, her probably first, in an upstairs bedroom while he was out, him secondly after he came home, downstairs. After some investigation Lizzie was tried for the murders but acquitted. No one else was ever charged.

It is written in first person narratives of four key players: Lizzie herself, her elder sister Emma who was on vacation in a nearby town when the murders took place, Bridget the maid, and a boy named Benjamin.

Lizzie is obsessed with blood and has some very strange thoughts:

  • "She made my teeth want to sink into her flesh and eat her out of life" (p 219)
  • "There was a pop in the middle of my ear. It crawled out and lunged at the walls of the house." (p 221)

Emma is the older child, 41 at the time of the murders, who has been pushed out by Lizzie, the baby of the family, the darling of her daddy, the favourite. She is desperate to get away but she was forced to dump the only boyfriend she had; Lizzie didn't want Emma to leave her. "Men didn't come knocking at our door, did not bother talking to me at social engagements. I hadn't realised how lonely a heart could become." (p 143) Emma's is the saddest story, forced to look after a bullying little sister whose moods verge of madness.

Bridget the maid is the normal one of the quartet, forced by economic necessity to watch the father bully the girls, the younger daughter bully everyone. Bridget is the sanest of the chroniclers and it is thanks to her that we get a true understanding of the poisoned relationships within the claustrophobic household.

If Lizzie is strange Benjamin is psychopathic. He flees his home after committing a serious assault on his father's first wife. He is a killer, as much at home with blood and pieces of bone as Lizzie. He assaults policemen and runs away. He is the ultimate in violent bogeymen. I was not sure what part Benjamin played in the narrative. He had the useful function of stealing the axe (the police never found the murder weapon) and offering it to Lizzie years later, when Emma finally left Lizzie. But he also plays a role in normalising Lizzie: she might be weird but Benjamin is violence personified.

I can't decide whether I found the authorly technique intrusive. She has certainly created a mood of claustrophobia and hatred and blood and other bodily fluids. But the writing is strange. For example, Lizzie often describes something by repeating a word: "my heart beat nightmares, gallop, gallop ... The clock on the mantle ticked ticked" (pp 3 - 4) She goes to drink water and "let my hands sink into the cool sip sip" (p 6) "The clock on the mantel ticked ticked" (p 6; again) This technique made me feel that Lizzie was a child. In fact she was 32. Throughout Lizzie's narratives you get the feel that she is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. But other characters also use words in strange and original ways. For example, Benjamin says :"The barn was the heat of sun-fire." (p 189) and Bridget says: "My underthings clung to my sweating places." (p 200) This is wonderful description but the technique is clearly visible.

Other great lines:

  • "The place where people talked about love like it was part of breathing." (p 39)
  • "At home, Mama was a dust keeper. Hours then hours of menial tasks to keep herself from thinking. 'If I stop, I'll leave and I'm not sure I'd take the children'." (p 75)
  • "John whistled as he walked. I was already sick of his tune." (p 157)

May 2018; 319 pages

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