Iris – A Book About Violence

I have an online writing colleague who I’ve never met- Toni Owen-Blue. we were introduced by a mutual acquaintance who thinks we’re both fabulous. So it’s  a friendship made in heaven…Even if we’d walk straight past each other in the street.

Toni has written a book about domestic violence experienced by children. This is my review.

About Toni Owen-Blue:

Author Photo-2


Book Review: “Iris” by Toni Owen-Blue

It has taken me over a month to write this review. I didn’t know where to start until Tuesday evening when I was driving home from work and saw a young girl sitting on the kerb outside a house in our street. She looked about ten years old. I checked the time: 6.30pm. OK, so that’s not late, she’s probably just waiting for a friend or a lift or…and that started me off: was I behaving like that kindly mother in Iris who doesn’t ask about a child’s bruises? Two days later I drive past the same house in daylight and there’s a young woman sitting outside, smoking a cigarette, running her hands through her hair. She’s pretty, well-dressed, well-groomed. There’s no blood or screaming. But she’s definitely distressed.

What should I do? What do any of us do?

Until I read Iris, I don’t think I would have worried about these two. I would just have assumed they were taking some time outside, maybe the family doesn’t like smoking indoors, maybe…in fact, I probably wouldn’t even have registered them.

That’s the point that Owen-Blue makes so strongly in Iris – we don’t see the violence that happens, because we don’t expect to see it. The incredibly high death rate for female victims of domestic violence in Australia is driven by the same denial. When there are half a million cases of violence against women reported annually, it couldn’t possibly be happening so quietly and so routinely; surely there would be ambulances and police cars? Owen-Blue succeeds in showing us a family where the violence is so routine and institutionalised that not even the family members being hurt recognise it as out of the ordinary or unacceptable. It’s just what happens.

I was carried along by the story and sorry when it ended – I like an ending where the villains get their just desserts and although I didn’t get that, I was left wanting to do more, wanting to help somehow. Along the way I really enjoyed (well, recognised and admired!) Owen-Blue’s evocation of high school. High school for me was a horrible institution where minimal adult supervision just about held hundreds of kids back from re-creating Lord of the Flies. Owen-Blue captures this and shows how even the most well-meaning adult in such a system can be overwhelmed and fail to notice a problem.

I also really enjoyed the depiction of Iris – she is a child and behaves like one. She takes her pleasures where she finds them, lives in the moment, wants to be good and wants, above all, to be liked. In her attempts to be good, she follows her family’s bizarre rules and accepts the punishments she receives. Iris explains that her mother “has to” punish her because it’s the only way Iris can learn to behave properly. She doesn’t see that the punishments are arbitrary and triggered by her mother’s mood, not by anything Iris has done. At the same time, Iris is far from perfect; she’s messy and disobedient like any normal child. Watching the family dynamic unfold in this story is fascinating.

While I read the story, I found myself empathising with all the different characters: Iris herself, of course, which led to wondering whether I was abused as a child or not; then her peers at the school, which left me wondering which of my school-mates were abused; then her brother, more wondering about my sister and I and our relationship; and then the adults…I liked the fact that the adults were largely peripheral to Iris’s life- they were god-like and controlling and unpredictable but Iris was much more concerned about her friendships and her brother.

My only gripe is that there are some grammar and spelling errors and I would expect a higher standard of editing. When I had to break the flow of my reading to work out the meaning of a sentence because a word was misspelt it made it hard to stay with the story.

Overall though, it’s a good read and left me wanting to know what would happen next.

About Iris:

“I flinch. I know she’s not going to hit me, we’ve got in arguments a hundred times before and she’s raised her hand – she’s never hit me in the face. But I flinch anyway.”

This book is about me, Iris, and the things that I do, the friends I make–well, try to make, and everything else that happens to me–good, bad and, uh, very bad.

That sounds really boring but I promise, it’s much more extraordinary. I might seem normal (well, not normal, a bit weird really), but there’s so much more to it than that, more than most people can understand.

Make sure to follow Toni’s Facebook Page so you can keep up to date on Iris news.