Fury begins with a young Kathryn Heyman perching precariously on a narrow and slippery boom 50 metres from the deck of a fishing trawler, over a roiling sea. It’s night and a wild storm has blown up, threatening to capsize the boat. It’s a nailbiting start to a fierce, thrilling and courageous memoir.
Heyman’s father was violent and abusive and her mother’s second partner rage-filled. Poverty heightened the author’s ingrained sense of social exclusion and vulnerability. After she was raped as a teenager by a taxi driver, both the police and, later, the barrister for the defence made her feel it was her on trial. She’d been drunk, wore a short skirt and, under it, French knickers: surely, she’d asked for it. The taxi driver was acquitted.
The adult neighbour who molested her and her friends when she was a child, and the other men and boys who threatened, attacked or mistreated her as a young woman, never even faced the law. Fury is a white-hot indictment of a world in which girls and women must be on constant guard against attack, and grateful whenever men don’t act like predators.
As with Rick Morton’s stellar One Hundred Years of Dirt, Fury speaks directly to Australia’s dirty secret – class. Growing up, Heyman was painfully conscious of how different she was from the pretty, flirty, confident middle-class girls who befriended and then, too often, betrayed her. She studied them for tips on “how to be a girl”, just as later she would scrutinise the habits and tastes of the middle-class kids she shared a house with – how they talked, what they ate, “believing I could be like them, failing to see the ladder of inherited privilege and assumption that they were lifted on daily”.
Reading is liberation, protection and comfort: “I blanket myself in words.” Naming clarifies and orders the world. It recognises abuse, including the rape, as her experience and beyond the power of any judge or jury to say otherwise. Heyman names those who wronged her. It’s unclear if she is using aliases but I hope that’s the case for the schoolgirls at least; I’m uncomfortable with the idea of shaming people for things they did as children. This is my only reservation about this profoundly moving account of a brave – and furious – victim who makes of herself not just a survivor but a conqueror.
Allen & Unwin, 328pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 26, 2021 as "Fury, Kathryn Heyman".
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