Sonia St Claire has an important and interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find it in her newly published memoir “The Girl in the Locker”. Sonia and her twin sister, Sarah, spent the first 14 years of their lives in various orphanages around Sydney, in the fifties and sixties. Ms St Claire has since given evidence to the Royal Commission formed to investigate institutional child-abuse, and is a wonderful advocate for those children who, like herself, suffered in those god-forsaken places. However, the main problem with her book is that it tries to be more than that.
What starts as her story of abuse, winds through stories of relationship abuse and then meanders into being a general memoir of a woman whose later life, although admirable, is fairly unremarkable; certainly not remarkable enough to hold a reader’s interest.
Ms St Claire is also not a writer. Although she can string a sentence together, this books jumps from topic to topic, not just in a chapter, but in a paragraph. It is also full of repetition, simplistic psychology and tedious detail that becomes, I am sorry to say, quite self-indulgent at times. Had she had a ghost or co-writer, or even just a strong editor, this would have been a good read. It seems that the sausage-factory , modern, publishing world has let this woman down by churning out what is really just a fairly reasonable first draft. I was even astonished to find it full of basic proof-reading errors, such as “of” instead of “off” and “quite” instead of “quiet”. It is also riddled with acts of punctuation atrocity.
Sifting through the semantic mess, I did find her story of institutional abuse gripping, open and honest. It is frustrating though, how many threads are left dangling. Their father is only mentioned, even as a concept, about a hundred pages in, and then is only given slightly more detail a few pages later. Her unconditional love for their mother, who put them in these homes, starts as heart-warming and ends as annoying. She neither wallows in the righteous anger she should feel for this woman, nor does she delve further into her mother’s life to find out what made her the sociopath she probably was. In fact, half-way through the book, we are told that her mother, as a small child herself, was tied to a tree and flogged, but it is written almost as an aside. It is also sad that Ms St Claire constantly reiterates her love for her twin sister (to whom the book is dedicated) yet freely admits to not contacting her for years at a time.
Despite all that, the first third of this book is well worth reading for the story it tells.
Hug your children close.
“The Girl in the Locker”, Sonia St Claire. New Holland Publishers.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten