‘Smelling of roses and muck’ – Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

This month sees the release of a shocking new title Tiger Tiger, which relates the true story of a loving, sexual relationship between ­ believe it  or not ­ a fifty-one year old man and a seven-year-old girl. These sexual  revelations, which the New York Times review called ‘the most indecent thing  published in any major book of the last decade’ will surely spark a few debates about what must be one of the most taboo subjects to spew from a  pen: paedophilia. The new debut novel by Bonnie Nadzam, Lamb, also involves an older man and a young girl. He is fifty-four; she’s eleven. Like Tiger Tiger by Margaux Fragoso, it delves into the squalid reality of child abuse and comes out smelling of a blend of roses and muck. In each case the girl falls in love with her abuser. In each case she is manipulated into a sexual encounter through a sickly combination of ’fatherly’ care and adult lust. Do we really want to read this? Perhaps we don’t. It’s like peering over the moon at the dark side. But still it¹s there, isn¹t it?

Nadzam’s dialogue, always spot on, always striking a horribly true note, follows the slipstream of Lamb’s brightly fake promises as he drives his victim further and further from home through a Midwestern landscape that seems made up along the way.  You would like to slam on the brakes and say no, that¹s not real, that wouldn’t happen, but you don’t. The narrative is persuasive; Lamb is persuasive. Now slide those off. There you go. Oops. This is fine, right? Then, ‘Come on, we don’t have all night’. He even manages to persuade himself he’s giving this girl the best memories of her life. That this is ‘all in hopes of glimpsing something beautiful’ in the midst of run down, worn out middle America, where there is nothing but the ‘filthy street and bright signs announcing the limits of this world’ where David Lamb feels ‘hemmed in, jarred off, sewn up’. By the end of the book you¹ll wish he had been. But the nasty truth is that there are probably plenty more out there like him. Lock up your daughters, I’d say.

Any Cop?: Made all the more relevant by the saga surrounding Jimmy Saville in the UK, Lamb reads like another swoop over terrain covered by AM Homes in The End of Alice but it’s compelling stuff all the same.

Lucille Turner


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