The Apology attempts a kind of ventriloquism that seems nearly impossible to achieve convincingly. Indeed, the book’s conceit is not always flawlessly executed. There are insightful moments, and Ensler expertly unpacks the intergenerational trauma that led to her childhood experiences: “Was I a coldhearted monster, or a man with a broken and revengeful heart?”, Arthur asks. “Is there a difference?” Elsewhere, Ensler’s ghostly (and ghastly) father’s voice contains echoes of Humbert Humbert: “You had only to bat your pretty eyes or gently lift and tease me with your sparkling crinoline petticoat and I was a goner”.
This latest memoir returns her to the violated body of her own five-year-old self, and the bloodied and beaten teenager, but through a central paradox at the heart of the narrative: The Apology is written as a letter of penitence from Arthur to her – and she, the writer and daughter, undergoes a creative out-of-body experience to inhabit his voice, body and mind.
Dramatically, it is horrifying and mesmerising in equal measure, both in its depth of inquiry and its detail. The letter writing device channels Arthur’s intimate, confessional and not always detestable voice, speaking from the tortuous vacuum of his limbo in afterlife.
[The Apology] is a litany of horrendous acts, written in the form of a letter by Arthur Ensler to his daughter. It starts with one of his last acts: his instruction to his wife to strike Eve from his will. From there, it goes back to the start, to Eve’s birth and what it unleashed in him... [The Apology] is at times so electrically intense that it’s hard to read on. But between the passages that edge towards poetry there is some less beguiling prose. Arthur talks about a “structure of identity” and “patriarchal blueprint”. He uses words such as “paradigm” and “gaslighting”, which can make him sound more like a lecturer in cultural studies than a New York businessman born at around the time Queen Victoria died... That’s the trouble with this book. It’s a bold act of imaginative empathy, but you’d expect an award-winning playwright to be better at catching a voice. Perhaps she is too close to it... The Apology is an incredibly brave attempt to make sense of what seems senseless. It’s a powerful and sometimes devastating anatomisation of harm.