Book review: Savoir
by Janet O’Rourke
Published by Dun Emer Press 2018 ISBN: 978-0-9568202-42
Reviewed by Anne O’Brien, MA, MIAHIP
In the opening pages of Savoir we come face to face with the devastating effects of domestic violence. This is a fictional story of a woman’s desperate action – Annie Roberts fears becoming one of the grim statistics in Ireland of women who were killed by someone they knew intimately. Savoir flows back and forth between Ireland and France and engages you from the very start. I loved it!
Cyril Roberts is not a likeable man. In fact, he has few qualities to boast of. The characteristics of narcissism are displayed clearly through the character of Cyril in this story. Annie is a victim and very soon into the story she is faced with a decision which is not easy to make, but she makes it. She runs away from her abusive husband, diving into the unknown. She leaves without her two children. My reaction to her fleeing without her children is disbelief: “What is she doing? How can she do this?” The effects of her desperate action on all four members of the family are powerful: emotional turmoil, feelings of abandonment, betrayal and other surprising consequences.
Did Annie have a breakdown or a breakthrough in this desperate act? Did she move from victim to self-responsibility? Or did she herself become a perpetrator to her family, by leaving the children in the care of an ill-equipped and potentially dangerous man.
To the outside world this is a very privileged family living in Dublin 4 with both means and status. The novel gives the reader insight into the sometimes invisible nature of domestic violence. Because of the invisibility, Annie’s action makes the family look like victims and makes people question how she could do this. What should she do though? Stay? Or leave? At times the guilt that Annie feels and her grief are overwhelming for her.
Savoir really grabbed my attention, made me think. It gives a real vision into the felt experience of a victim of domestic violence and rape. I felt drawn into Annie’s desperateness and her decision to never again be violated. She goes on a self- discovery journey and the reader is taken with her. Metaphorically she died, comes back to life and goes through a three-year transformation. She brought me into the darkness with her and then into an awakening to a new life as she discovers she is truly lovable, capable and significant.
The transformative journey that Annie goes on gives a real understanding of the journey we as psychotherapists have travelled and are travelling, in our training and in our work. As practitioners we invite our clients to engage in the same transformation. At first Annie seems to know very little about herself, but through journaling she begins to self-dialogue, self-reflect and new insights dawn and begin to flourish. She discovers strengths within herself and resources she never knew she had. She is also able to make herself visible to others and gets to know herself further in their responses to her. Through this building of self-awareness and getting to know herself she begins to make choices. She soon learns that her choices bear consequences which can be painful, but also fulfilling. As she takes responsibility for choices she becomes more whole. This is the journey we want our clients to take. In this way Savoir is a very useful resource for psychotherapists in training.
Savoir is a French word, meaning ‘to know’ and each person in this family is coming to know the truth of their situation. Cyril feels victimised by his wife’s action and begins to unravel. There are many scenes in Savoir where we are taken into the mind of a narcissist through Cyril, and witness the swings in mood from helplessness to rage and the acting out of this rage. Eventually Cyril becomes a victim of his own actions.
Terry, the daughter, who initially remains defiant to the world and even to her father, finds herself at the receiving end of his wrath. She is grounded indefinitely without phone or internet. We witness her, in her isolation, reviewing her options, processing what is happening to her, feeling remorse for how she has treated her mother in the past. She makes new decisions for herself, having weighed up the consequences of her situation. The reader is on the inside track of her thinking, witnessing the effects of domestic violence on her, which is very different to her brother’s reactions.
Her brother Niall withdraws to his bedroom, disengages from everyone. He develops OCD – in his mindset things can be controlled and trusted, but people cannot. He pushes everything down – sadness, anger, guilt and fear. He comes across as problem-free, even to his counsellor in school, where his behaviour, grades and social interactions are all fine. But when explaining about confidentiality to Niall, the counsellor discovers that his ‘normal’ behaviour is actually masking a suicidal ideation, an ambivalence to living and she puts in place a safety protocol. The dialogue between Niall and his counsellor is a good resource for psychotherapists working with suicidal clients.
Savoir is a captivating novel – the way Janet has developed each character gives us a felt experience of their struggles, their internal processing, their deadening of feelings, and their immense courage. Through her character development we get a sense of what it is like to be whole, and the internal journey it takes to get there.
There are many other characters in Savoir also. For example, there are fishermen who are tough and some even rough, but who also have a softness in response to Annie’s vulnerability. I love the way Janet can bring out these opposites in an authentic believable manner, again giving the sense of our wholeness. The story takes us through many towns and cities in France as Annie journeys and this gives me the sense of being able to breathe as Annie learns how to breathe and discover herself.
Savoir is Janet’s third book (previous books written under Janet E Sahafi: Healing the Spirit, Healing the Past). She shows great insight and wisdom into the effects of domestic violence on a family system, as well as on individuals in a family. This makes it a significant resource for all professionals working with victims of domestic violence and I recommend this book to all psychotherapists and psychotherapists in training, along with other professionals engaged in mental health, such as social care practitioners, nurses, social workers and medical professionals.
As yet it Savoir is not available in any book store but can be purchased online from www.kennys.ie and will be shipped postage free anywhere in Ireland or beyond. If you would like to comment on the novel or reach Janet, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne O’Brien, MIAHIP is an accredited psychotherapist living and practising in Wexford town.