We’ll Never Tell Them: Chapter 3

If we could write blog posts by thinking them, I would have finished We’ll Never Tell Them by now. I wrote Chapter 2 on 30th May this year (here) and since then have had the book, and the need/desire to get on with writing about it, constantly on my mind. This morning, those thoughts have finally translated into action. Why do we wait so long?!

***

Chapter 3 is the first chapter not to begin or contain any quotations. Instead, we dive straight into the story of Liljana Camilleri. This gives the chapter a more ‘spartan’ feel, something that is quite appropriate given Liljana’s circumstances.

Liljana is the nine year old daughter of a seriously mentally ill woman. Her mother abuses her badly. The abuse is mainly verbal, but although the narrator says,

It was fortunate for both of them that her mother was not given to committing acts of physical violence… or it would have been harder to hide her behaviour.

there is a suggestion later on in the chapter that Liljana’s mother once pushed her off a balcony, causing Liljana to break her arm. We are told that Liljana stated that what happened was an accident but as Dr Hampton finds out, Liljana is an accomplished liar. She is so good at it, she doesn’t even realise she is doing it.

That aside, the point is that we have jumped into the deep-end of Liljana’s story. There’s no time to waste on quotations. This girl is in trouble, and needs help fast.

Fortunately, it comes.

Sadly, it takes a near disaster for it to arrive. Liljana’s mother burns some sheets in the belief that they are disease ridden. This nearly results in the house burning down. The prompt action of neighbours stops that from happening, and afterwards – as should have happened a long time ago – Liljana’s mother is taken to a mental hospital. This brings the local doctor, Dr. Hampton, into Liljana’s life, and it is he who rescues her from destitution and finds her a new home to live in.

Dr Hampton is English. That it is he who rescues Liljana is a matter of shame to her family and community. Liljana’s mother’s ‘lack of a wedding ring… [and] refusal to name the father of her bastard child’ are presented as reasons for their isolation but as the narrator says these are not the only ones. The deeper reason is surely Liljana’s mother’s mental illness.

Chapter 3 makes for grim reading. Even more so when you consider that the man telling the story is dying of cancer. And what must the woman who is hiding from the future be thinking as she hears it? We’ll find out at the start of the next chapter. For now, I would just like to say a quick something about the final sentence of 3.

On an otherwise unremarkable afternoon in the year of our Lord 1906, Liljana Camilleri, possessing the clothes she was wearing and two school books that subsequently had to be returned, found herself facing a future without protecting and without certainties.

I really liked this. It’s construction has a touch of the epic about it while the content remains grounded in the simple, harsh reality of Liljana’s life. There is absurdity in the statement about the school books (who cares about them; Liljana has lost her mother) but also gravitas (loss of protection and lack of certainty). I would not change one iota of this sentence as it sums up Liljana’s situation perfectly – absurd and dangerous. I can’t wait to move on to Chapter 4.

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