Sue Townsend's Ghost Children
The opening scene of Chapter Ten:
As Angela drove around the multi-storey carpark following the exit signs, Catherine appeared beside her. Angela told her about the extraordinary meeting she'd had at lunchtime with Christopher Moore.As the scene continues, Angela's tears remind her of the amniotic fluid dripping down her legs during the abortion eighteen years earlier, which she then proceeds to re-live in flashback (one of many flashbacks to the abortion in this novel).
'He just turned up?' Catherine was amazed. 'What does he look like?'
'Well, you wouldn't want him to come to a parents' evening, not looking like he did today.'
Catherine asked, 'Does he know about me?'
'Catherine, you are all we talked about,' said Angela. 'You and his dog. He wanted to know if you were alive.'
'What did you tell him?'
'I told him the truth. I told him that you were dead.'
They both laughed, and Angela took her eyes off the road for a moment to glance at her impossibly perfect, beautiful, black-haired, laughing daughter.
'I got a hundred per cent in my mock A's, Mum,' said Catherine, smiling and showing her dazzling teeth. Angela glowed with maternal pride as she stopped at the barrier and handed her ticket to the gloomy carpark man who sat in his little cubicle, listening to a Radio One traffic report. 'You're very young, but with your IQ and exam results you ought to try for Oxford next year.' Angela said to Catherine.
'Oxford?' repeated the carpark man.
'I was talking to my daughter,' said Angela. The man looked int the car. It was empty, apart from the fat woman behind the wheel.
Her talking to herself was nothing new to him; he'd seen all sorts of mad behavior taking place in cars. Have a butchers at her now. She's crying her eyes out! She's had to pull over. She's dropped her head on the steering wheel and sounded the horn. She's looking for a tissue, can't find one. Ugh! she's blowing her nose on her skirt. A respectable-looking woman like her. The public never failed to amaze him.
Ghost Children is unrelenting. Every page is either about the abortion of Catherine, the profound psychological disturbance that both of her parents (Angela and Christopher) have endured since her abortion, or about a Satan-worshipping pair of lovers who abuse their living daughter.
As Herman Goodden notes here:
Sue Townsend is the author of the enormously popular Adrian Mole books, which started out in 1982 as the fictional diaries of an awkward and precocious adolescent and six installments later, now detail the machinations of a rising young professional in Tony Blair’s England. Her second last non-Mole novel was Ghost Children, which grew out of her haunted and painful meditations on the two abortions she underwent in 1974.Readers and reviewers have been somewhat confused by this novel, as Jennifer Davidson describes:
“No message goes to the brain to say you’re not pregnant anymore,” Townsend confided in sad wonder. “It kind of carries on. I hadn’t realized any of that.”
She read an extract from her book, called Ghost Children, which bears the stamp of her inimitable humour, but is also surprisingly serious. She was inspired to write Ghost Children by the women of her generation who had an abortion some 30 years ago--when it became legal, in 1967--and who find themselves now haunted by the child they aborted, staring at 30-year-olds on the street, thinking that could have been my child. The extract she read was extraordinarily moving, and was greeted by a stunned silence from the audience: It was several seconds before anyone recovered enough to applaud.There are reviews and plot summaries here and here. I was aware that the novel was about the psychological aftermath of abortion, but unprepared for the unremitting levels of stark desperation on nearly every page. In other words, I was unprepared for the level of accuracy.
Sue Townsend is a highly-lauded mainstream author. This remarkable and disturbing book was published in 1997. I wonder if it surprises Townsend that our society is still coated with a thick blanket of denial about the impact of abortion on the men and women who have them.