Eating the Elephant by Alice Wells Review

Thursday, 13 April 2017

TW: Child Abuse

Towards the end of last year, I was chosen for jury duty. Around 50 people were in attendance that day but only 15 jurors were required. You can imagine I felt pretty good that the odds of my name being picked out of the fishbowl were extremely low but alas, luck wasn’t on my side that day and I became juror number 6.

The trial I was selected for consisted of a male who had been accused of being in possession of child pornography. We listened to the witnesses and the accused before finding the man in question guilty. We were fortunate to not be shown the images although the levels of extremity were described to us. I’d rather not see those type of images for as long as I should live but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in what makes paedophiles tick.

Eating the Elephant Alice Wells

Ever since my former teenage crush Ian Watkins of Lostprophets fame was arrested for his heinous crimes, I’ve wondered what compels people to be driven to child pornography and rape. They’re both morbid subject matters that we’d all be better off without but I have a warped interest in the psychological aspect of it all. This is why when Jeremy Vine was interviewing Alice Wells on BBC Radio 2, I had to listen.

Alice Wells was discussing the day she discovered her husband was being investigated for paedophilia as well as the months that followed. Her story compelled me to immediately purchase her book “Eating the Elephant” as I was intrigued to hear about the experience from a family member’s point of view.

Eating the Elephant* gives an insight into Alice Wells’ life as she deals with the aftermath of the death of her husband Mark and the discovery of his paedophilia. Their marriage sounds like any typical relationship; there are arguments, support and love but eventually, things change. Mark loses interest in Alice after the birth of their first child and begins to dedicate more and more time to his computer. To Alice, it’s a little much but as he had a degree in IT and claimed it was for his job, she didn’t question it.

The discovery of Mark’s disgusting “hobby” happens at the beginning of the book so the vast majority of the story focuses on how the family, particularly Alice, copes with it all. Whenever his history was referenced throughout the book, it was very brief and rather rushed. My assumption is this is down to Alice Wells still trying to gather her thoughts on it all but for me personally, I felt like a huge chunk of the story was missing.

Eating the Elephant Alice Wells

There is one detail of Mark’s interest in particular that Alice doesn’t go into and I think it’s quite obvious why she refrains from doing so. Mark had abused their child Grace when she was a very young girl. He had shown her explicit images on his computer, taken photos of her in her mother’s underwear and made her “drink from daddy’s bottom”. There were times after Mark had died where Grace would be sleeping and she would say how she didn’t want the cream on her as it was sticky; I’ll let you figure out what poor Grace was actually referring to.

It was really the parts with Grace that stood out for me the most as it only highlighted how difficult it can be for a parent to not only find help for their child but to also cope with the realisation that they were abused by someone who was supposed to protect them. Despite these parts standing out to me, I felt like there was a lack of frustration and real emotion in Alice’s need to help her child. I understand that Alice would be upset but her words didn’t necessarily depict that; the jumbled timelines and lack of flow to the story took away any emotion that should have been woven into it.

While there does seem to be a lack of emotion, forgiveness does manage to sneak its way into the book as Alice Wells finds herself debating on whether she should forgive Mark. I feel like this is the part that will divide the majority of Eating the Elephant’s readers. I’m quick to say I would never forgive anyone who could do such disgusting things to children but at the same time, I’ve never been – and hope to never be – in such a situation.

I think it’s easy to say we’d never forgive and shun anyone who chooses to forgive but at the same time, Alice married Mark thinking he was a great man. She had 2 children with him and, although their marriage hit a rough patch towards the end, the memories she had with and of him can’t just be erased. It’s actually quite refreshing to find someone who is willing to admit they forgive a person when anyone not in that situation would condemn them.

Overall, I’m a little disappointed with Eating the Elephant. I feel like the story could have been far more compelling and maybe even discuss more signs that Mark wasn’t all he seemed to be. There is a part where he’s sitting with a child on his knee and has an obvious erection but other than that, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of warning signs that you would only pick up on in hindsight. I guess I expected a bit more detail as opposed to a lot of jumbled thoughts and a timeline that didn't make a whole lot of sense. I will give Alice Wells a slight pass as she isn't a professional writer and is no doubt still trying to understand the situation.

Would I recommend Eating the Elephant? Well, if you're not easily horrified and can make sense of muddled thoughts then by all means read this book. If you want something lighthearted though, I'd stay well away.

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