One Foot Wrong…
A child is imprisoned in a house by her reclusive religious parents. Hester has never seen the outside world. The story told by Hester is often dark and terrible, but the sheer blazing brilliance of her language and the imagery that illuminates the pages make this novel an exhilarating, enlightening and joyous act of faith.
One Foot Wrong by Sofie Laguna might just have to be the most unsettling novel I have ever read. It stretches you, both emotionally and cognitively and it’s not easy to read. I was absorbed by it immediately and read it all in one night – I couldn’t put it down, to be honest – but the entire experience was harrowing and left me feeling rather bleak.
Told from the perspective of Hester, the narrative is both childlike and implicit. It was hard for me to gauge Hester’s age; at first I thought she was very young, but as the novel progressed, it became clearer that she was older, perhaps about 10 years old in the beginning, but I’m only guessing here. It was quite a surprise to me when she turned 18; her thoughts and communications were still so immature and volatile that even though she had been isolated for her entire life, all adult sensibility was absent.
This novel is about so much more than religious fanaticism and unchecked child abuse. It paints a picture of inter-generational mental illness, where ‘the devil’ is attributed as the cause of erratic and delusional behaviour; you are bad, therefore you are mad, possessed with evil that must be drawn out through punishment. It’s all very old-testament, yet it still holds relevance in today’s society, particularly when you consider the ceremony of exorcism and self-flagellation which is still practiced in some religions to this day. There are some very specific incidents described by Hester that give insight into the extent of her mother’s mental illness, even if Hester herself doesn’t have the knowledge to recognise it as such; as readers, we know this is the case and unlike many other parts of the novel, these scenes were quite explicit.
Hester herself is an interesting character. She made me think long and hard about the notion of nature versus nurture, but kind of in reverse to the way I would normally think of it. Was it Hester’s lack of being nurtured that led her to being mentally ill, or was she genetically programed to always end up that way? Was it both of these factors combined? Maybe she was genetically disposed towards mental illness but the lack of nurturing brought it forth; if she’d been brought up in a settled household with normal socialisation and un-abused, then perhaps her genetic pre-disposition towards mental illness would have remained dormant. As you can see, this novel has proved to be incredibly thought provoking for me! In the end, Hester was completely unanchored, no grasp on reality at all. It was devastating and horrific to bear witness to, and while the ending was somewhat inevitable, I had to read certain passages more than once to ensure I had really just read what I thought I had read; it was that horrific. I’m not exaggerating.
This is a very literary novel, emphasis on the very. Readers of commercial fiction will not take well to this story on account of the childlike implicit prose and ambiguity throughout. It’s a masterful achievement though for Sofie Laguna; I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult this novel must have been to write. If it had been more straightforward and less lyrical, it would have been impossible to read. I’d love to know a little bit more about why Sofie wrote One Foot Wrong, what inspired the story and what she was really aiming to achieve because it’s quite fantastic, in a horrifically beautiful way.
One Foot Wrong is book 53 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.