Putney By Sofka Zinovieff – A Review

Publisher: Bloomsbury

I really enjoyed this book and it feels so wrong to say it given the content. I nearly didn’t review it and I don’t really know why as I found it an amazing read.

I’ll start by saying this book deals with the very emotive subject of child grooming, child sexual abuse and the handling of historic child sex abuse…..I know right!

It’s the 1970’s and Ralph a composer has gone to visit his friend Edmund to talk about a collaboration. During this visit he encounters Daphne, Ed’s 9 year old daughter. She instantly bewitches him and he becomes enthralled by her. Ralph is 27 when this encounter takes place.

Ralph continues to make regular visits to the house in Barnabus Road, under the guise of visiting Ed and his wife Ellie. However it is their daughter he is more interested in. In fact he is obsessed with her. Ed and Ellie live a very bohemian life and Daphne and her brother are left to their own devices at early ages. Coming and going from the house as they wish along with many and varied visitors.

Daphne quickly becomes as obsessed with Ralph as he is with her. Enthralled by his adult charms and secret little gifts.

When at the age of 13 their relationship becomes sexual, a tipping point has been reached that they cannot go back from.

Fast forward to the present day and Daphne now a woman in her fifties with a young daughter of her own has her memories shaped by her old friend Jane who was around to witness much of the affair between herself and Ralph at the time it was happening. Ralph now in ailing health is forced to revisit that bohemian, heady time in his life and confront some demons.

You don’t need me to tell you that the subject matter involved here is very emotive. The initial description of the relationship is quite passionate and poetic but you have this creeping horror under your skin when you remember that this relationship is beyond wrong. In both the eyes of the law and society. It is almost too hard to wrap your head around the fact that Ralph feels (even as a man in his 70’s) that the relationship was based on true love and a deep connection beyond sex. He is blind to the fact that what he did makes him an abuser, a sexual predator. It takes Daphne some time to come to terms with this too, but having a daughter of a similar age to herself when the relationship turned sexual helps to cement the idea that the whole thing was very wrong.

The story is told through the perspectives of Ralph, Daphne and Jane. The abuse scenes are not gratuitous or salacious in any way. The whole story is beautifully written and handled extremely tactfully.

It is fascinating to see how much times have changed. The way that historic child sex abuse cases are handled and how relationships were perceived back in those days. What Ralph did was morally reprehensible and you read the story with an overwhelming sense of dread. Unflinchingly raw and emotional, this was a tough read at times as you can well imagine.

It is certainly a book I won’t be forgetting in a hurry, for all the right reasons.

I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

See you soon

Bookish Chat. Xx

2 thoughts on “Putney By Sofka Zinovieff – A Review

  1. Great review! I had similar feelings about this one: it is stunningly written and really engrossing but at the same time I really wanted a shower after finishing it.


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