Barbara Kinsolver’s book, The Poisonwood Bible was lent to me by a friend two years ago. I read it then, in Australia, and remember thinking that it benefitted from my geography – there was something about the oppression of the heat, and being very far from home that somehow made the book resonate with my surroundings. I’m not saying that being a secretary or a nanny in twenty-first-century Sydney is anything like being the daughter or wife of a narcissistic Baptist missionary in the 1960s Congo… but it’s a great book, and the fear and oppression, as well as the isolation, is something that has stayed with me and coloured my thoughts about writing and reading since. I think it might well be the first book I had read about a narcissist. Since, I have studied ‘The Man Who Loved Children’ by Christina Stead – They make those around them feel afraid and insufficient, and force them to choose between subservient inclusion, and isolated independence.
Many times over the last months I have thought of these two books together and the terrible men at the heart of them. As well though, I have thought of the women who escape them and become great themselves. The way the light picks this tree out, it seems both great and alone. Oddly, I suppose that’s something you could say of both the narcissist and his survivors.