This book made me so mad in a good rage, fueled by a captivating plot and with a main character I’d fight to protect. The Hollow Girl has a story that touched a personal nerve with me and takes us all on a ride of redemption and the pain of moving on.
Bethan’s clan of Welsh Romanies have come into town for the fall, like they do each year. But there is something different about this year, specifically this month, as the harassment from the son of the chieftain, Silas, seems to be hitting a dangerous high. While she is apprentice to the clan healer, and maybe witch, that has protected her so far, there’s something in the wind. Something is going to change, and Bethan along with it. One night Bethan is assaulted, the results of Silas’ fixation and possessiveness, along with her half-Roma protector Martyn. In order to save Martyn, she must make a deal. A magical exchange that will require blood, sacrifice, and a touch of revenge.
So I’ll just start this off with the trigger warning for rape here. Monahan begins with an author’s note which also addresses this, so it isn’t a huge surprise. This particular warning was very helpful to me. Her author’s note also delves into the personal motivation of the book in an insightful way, that gives the following story a personal touch. But back to the story. While the author’s note prepared me, I was, by no means, spoiled. If anything, it only heightens the suspense, the ominous fear in the pit of my stomach. It almost becomes palpable – this growing shadow looming in the background.
This book is a horror book, according to Goodreads. While I’m not so sure if it’s straight horror, because normally I can’t deal with that, it is full of mystery, tension, fear, and a little gore. Even if it is, which I have no complaints with, it is something even more. In a way it is darker, more complex, and more satisfying. But what transforms this book into that something more, for me, is the subject matter and the characters.
Bethan is a character I would fight for. She is compassionate, kind, and also conflicted. She wants desperately to be taught magic. When Bethan goes to the market to sell her herbs, she desires to actively discourage the stereotypes associated with her culture. And it’s so hard, because she also has a birth mark, which people associate with the devil. To say Bethan is a character you can, and as a young woman, identify with, is clear.
(Don’t even get me started on the precious character Martyn is. He is kind hearted, able to see beyond society’s image of Bethan, and fiercely loyal. Also Bethan’s mentor, her Gran, is such a compelling character. She is unapologetic, has the potential to be both vicious and tender, and is scarred in her own ways. I especially appreciated the story twists in relation to her character, as it lends a sort of cosmic pattern to the story).
That’s why Bethan’s fate and eventual use of magic is so bitter, and a tad ironic (to be clear, I am not suggesting there is anything ironic about rape, only Bethan’s desire for magic). While magic is something she always wanted to know, her introduction only begins, as Silas’ threats become more dangerous. It is almost like in order to combat the injustice of her harassment, she is now given the protection magic offers. It was described to me as a feminist horror story, and you can see the parallels between her situation and today’s society in a variety of ways.
Not only is Bethan afraid that she will be accused of ‘instigating’ her own harassment and assault, if she speaks up, she is acutely aware of the shame that will befall her, if she is seen acting ‘inappropriately’. Additionally, there is this toxic excusing of Silas from the beginning, from his father, the chieftain – a figure of immense authority – that is disturbing. We are also assured that he can change, that he might learn, and that he’s not a bad child – even until the end. Suffice it to say I found nothing redeeming about Silas nor his father.
The Issue of Rape
Because of this descriptive portrayal of Bethan’s fears as a girl in society, this book becomes transformed from one of horror, to one that seems to echo the struggles women face today. Then it becomes even more telling that Bethan must exact from each of her assaulters something to bring Martyn back from the edge of death. In some ways it becomes this cathartic quest for vengeance – that resonates, in some ways, for me. Yet Monahan does not let us off the hook, nor does she give us an ending that satisfies this ‘manhating vengeful woman’ trope.
Instead Monahan interrogates it, and challenges it. There is such a lure of succumbing, letting this trauma turn you bitter, and thriving on fear. But Bethan just feels hollow, numb – which is something I can relate to. As the reader, we want justice, we want the perpetrators to pay, because it’s something that is often denied to us in society. However speaking as a rape survivor, there’s also my intimate knowledge that vengeance, if it ever occurs, won’t make you whole.
To say I immensely enjoyed The Hollow Girl is an understatement. There was so much depth and complexity to this storyline and the characters within. Not only that, but the story meant so much to me. It is a book that acknowledges the difficulty of moving on, the price of vengeance, and the toxic consequences of when someone’s transgressions are overlooked in the name of maintaining the status quo.
Disclaimer: I received this copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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