Lex, the Girl A of the title, is successful lawyer who survived a horrific upbringing in northern England, her home dubbed the "House of Horrors" by the press. Her father committed suicide before he could be arrested, but her mother was convicted of terrible crimes against her children and has now died in prison, bequeathing Lex and her six siblings the family home. Lex must now make contact with her adult siblings-all were adopted by different families. Absolutely gripping, this is also more nuanced and emotionally complex than a brief synopsis might suggest.
Dean’s heroine has escaped from her gruesome family environment. After a spell as a successful lawyer in the US, she returns to England and undertakes to convert the family home from a place of terror to a community centre. But this involves the co-operation of her fellow survivors of familial mistreatment. Dean’s novel is both an excoriating picture of psychological trauma and an utterly transfixing crime narrative.
Captivity is central, again, in Girl A, Abigail Dean’s debut, another astonishingly good thriller. Here, though, the escape comes first, as Lex recounts the horrific details of how, as a child, she escaped from the bed in which she’d been chained by her father, smashing a window and jumping out, running for help despite her injuries, stopping a passing car... Moving back and forth between the present, where their mother has died in prison, and the past, Girl A is harrowing, gripping and also, somehow, life-affirming – an incredible achievement for a first novel.
Lex is the eldest daughter of religious fanatics who create their own version of reality, cutting themselves off from the world and eventually chaining their children to their beds in what inevitably becomes known as the “house of horrors”...
All the more powerful for being unsensational, and at its best when detailing the impossibility of explaining such experiences to an outsider and the coping mechanisms required to live in a state of “brokenness”, this debut is authentic, humane and full of hope.
This story of a family held hostage and terrorised by their parents — and the daughter who is the first to escape and alert the authorities — is an assured and striking debut from a young lawyer...
It is utterly compelling nevertheless, for it superbly dissects the effects of trauma and the horrors of the media spotlight, and is already optioned for a TV series.
Survivor’s guilt also propels Abigail Dean’s debut novel of suspense, which comes burdened with hype but largely rises above it, and above the restrictions of a genre that often prizes shock revelations for their own sake.
In Dean’s well-controlled narrative, Alexandra is a lawyer now based in New York. As a child, however, she and her siblings were in the public eye in Britain after being rescued from a “house of horrors” in a northern town. They had endured years of abuse at the hands of their father, a religious fanatic. Now that their mother has died, in prison, it falls to Lex as her executor to contact her brothers and sisters about their inheritance.
That, of course, runs deeper than just money. Lex’s telling, ranging back and forth in time, mostly leaves it to the reader to imagine what was inflicted on the children but gradually reveals its scars. And beneath layers of self-protection, Lex herself may be more damaged than she seems.
The writing is clean and compelling, the choices interesting and fully fleshed out. The flashbacks are upsetting but not torture porn. More affecting are things in the outside world Alexandra cannot understand: why people would ever stop eating at a buffet; why they wouldn’t enjoy being in hospital, or why the nurse has to keep her face turned away.
It seems odd to describe such a book as profoundly entertaining, but stories have always dealt in gore and death and this is no exception. It’s terrific: finally, an Oxbridge graduate succeeding in doing something really, really well.
It was Lex, the protagonist of Abigail Dean’s debut Girl A... whose escape fromher parents’ “house of horrors” as a child led to the freeing of her chained-up siblings, her monstrous father’s suicide and her mother’s arrest. Now a New York lawyer, she returns to the UK to oversee the family home’s conversion into a community centre, a project necessitating visits to her fellow survivors to get their consent. These encounters allow Dean to reveal gradually the grisly denouement of the children’s shared ordeal in a novel that’s psychologically astute, adroitly organised and written with flair. In the traditional new year battle between much touted first thrillers it’s the clear winner.
A powerful read. Lex Gracie — Girl A — survived a horrifying childhood in what was dubbed the House of Horrors by the media. Having known no other way to live, she and her siblings scrabble to make it through life after escaping form the nightmare. This astonishing debut has quite rightly been snapped up for TV.