The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien
Published by Little, Brown, and Company on December 12, 2017
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg: 3.72 (as of 2019-09-02)
For readers of Room and The Glass Castle, an astonishing memoir of one woman rising above an unimaginable childhood. Maude Julien’s parents were fanatics who believed it was their sacred duty to turn her into the ultimate survivor – raising her in isolation, tyrannizing her childhood and subjecting her to endless drills designed to “eliminate weakness.” Maude learned to hold an electric fence for minutes without flinching, and to sit perfectly still in a rat-infested cellar all night long (her mother sewed bells onto her clothes that would give her away if she moved). She endured a life without heat, hot water, adequate food, friendship, or any kind of affectionate treatment.
But Maude’s parents could not rule her inner life. Befriending the animals on the lonely estate as well as the characters in the novels she read in secret, young Maude nurtured in herself the compassion and love that her parents forbid as weak. And when, after more than a decade, an outsider managed to penetrate her family’s paranoid world, Maude seized her opportunity.
By turns horrifying and magical, The Only Girl in the World is a story that will grip you from the first page and leave you spellbound, a chilling exploration of psychological control that ends with a glorious escape.
This was such an interesting and bizarre read that I found myself inhaling it in what amounted to essentially one sitting. Maude Julien’s parents raised her to be “superhuman” and did so through “trainings” that most of us would recognize as nothing short of abuse. Just one example of many is that Maude’s father would have her drink alcohol to excess whilst maintaining her composure and walking along a straight line.
I found the tone of the book quite interesting, as it borders on impassivity. Maude is writing this many years removed from the scenarios she describes and explains everything she endured quite matter-of-factly. Not only had Maude never experienced anything different — she had never even seen anything different than the life she was living. Instead of presenting the circumstances as she views them now, she is careful to present them as she viewed them then. For instance, she discusses her father’s telekinesis and telepathy as straight facts rather than clarifying that it was something he merely believed he could do. I felt that this served to really put the reader into the world as she lived it instead of just describing her youth.
Can an animal teach a person about happiness? In the depth of my despair, I am fortunate to have this incredible source of joy.
The thing that struck me most about this book was Maude’s relationship to the animals on their property. It was heartbreaking to see the abuse the animals endured alongside her, but also incredible that she was able to find love and comfort in some form. I was amazed at how Maude was able to truly become her own person even while so firmly held within the grasp of her parents.
I was also intrigued by Maude’s later life, after she leaves her family, and wish she would have given some more depth to that period of her life, but also understood that this book serves only to describe her childhood and her eventual escape. The reader is given a bit more information in the epilogue, but I’d argue that a second book could be written about her adjustments to “normal” life as well as her journey to truly freeing her mind.
My father hammers into me that fear is the ‘indulgence of the weak’. But however hard I try, I am terrified all the time.
Overall, this was quite an interesting read. It may be a little intense for some, due to the extensive abuse portrayed, but if you think you would be able to handle the material I do recommend it.