PUTNEY is an exceptionally difficult read because it portrays the nuances of grooming behavior and the way its aftermath can take hold for decades after the fact. Daphne's story actually reminded me a lot of this memoir I just read recently, called CONSENT, which was written by a French woman named Vanessa Springora. Like Daphne, she thought she was "consenting" to a relationship with an older man who also referred to her as his "muse" (I wonder if perhaps this memoir inspired the author), and like Daphne, it took her a while after the fact to recognize his behavior for what it was, and how it upset her life.
The first half of this book was genuinely painful to read. I have ZERO sympathy for people who abuse children so it was difficult to stomach these portions, like watching a train wreck in progress. I think people who have experienced actual abuse may find this book very triggering, because the accounts are detailed (but not graphic). The second half was satisfying, because Ralph does eventually receive his comeuppance, but not in the way you might expect. It was also great to see the relationship between Jane and Daphne play out, and how childhood jealousies still affected them decades later, as women in their fifties. I found it genuinely touching and gratingly realistic that motherhood is what really cements what happened in Daphne's mind as abuse, when she realizes that if someone did to her daughter what Ralph did to her, she would find it unconscionable and come for him with claws out.
PUTNEY is not a light read but it's beautifully written and basically a master class in how to write complex, deeply flawed, and outright unlikable characters. Even the side characters were so layered and interesting. I feel like if a book makes you want to read between the lines of every interaction, then it is a genuinely good book. I can't wait to see what other books Sofka Zinovieff writes. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoyed MY DARK VANESSA or THE GOLDFINCH.
4.5 out of 5 stars