Books & Literature

Book Review: Rattled, by Ellis Gunn

MEMOIR: Alarming, and at times even darkly amusing, Rattled is a thought-provoking, heart-in-your-throat memoir that begins in outrage and ends with a celebration of the howling winds of change sweeping the globe.

A visceral, passionate, and masterful piece of writing.

CW: mention of rape, harassment, and domestic abuse

Local writer Ellis Gunn is best known for her evocative poetry, both on the page, and on the stage. This first major prose work from her embraces her poetic origins, whilst taking her writing in new directions.

A genre-fluid work, Rattled at its core is a memoire. Gunn tells the story of a time, some years ago, when she was victimised by a stalker. Wrapped around this awful memory are stories of other places, other men, other times when, as a woman, Gunn has been harassed, frightened, minimised, and assaulted. Sections of the book are interspersed with short pieces of poetic prose crying from the heart, in sadness and anger.

Gunn eschews the strictly chronological, opening her story “in the middle” with one of her many seemingly coincidental meetings with The Man. Although apparently living on the other side of Adelaide, he has randomly appeared in a park near her home. From that typical encounter with him, she expands the story, backwards and forwards. Along the way she digs deep into memory to recall the man who insisted on sitting next to her on a nearly empty train, the friend who stayed with a man who gave her a black eye, the boss who raped her, the partner who abused her.

What Gunn does spectacularly well is share her own descent into crippling anxiety as The Man continues to appear in odd places, and force unwanted connection and conversation on her. Her writing is so visceral that if you don’t become anxious yourself reading this, you must be made of asbestos. And incredibly, despite this very personal and vulnerable authenticity, there is not a hint of cloying self-pity.

Gun’s excellent research dips into information about stalking in psychological, sociological, and criminological terms. It also touches on wider aspects of gender inequality, and the roles that both men and woman are forced into due to the patriarchal framework which still stands strong, despite being redecorated. She doesn’t give advice to those being stalked, but rather discusses the support she was able to find, both formally and informally. For those interested in learning more, she has included a thorough notes section.

Rattled is not a comfortable read. Nor is it meant to be. At times it is horrifying, heart-rending, and so frustrating the reader has the urge to throw it across the room. But never because the writing isn’t consistently excellent. This is a jeremiad for men as much as for women.

“…the problem is not men as a whole, but The Man, the system that stalks us all, insinuating itself into our lives, our brains…”

Rattled will move you, amaze you, horrify you, and stay with you.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: May 2022
RRP: $32.99

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