Killing Hapless Ally – a synopsis
This is a tale of an individual grappling for sanity and identity; a black comedy in which we discover how Alison, its curious protagonist, conceived in childhood an alter ego called ‘Hapless Ally’ in order to present a different, more palatable version of herself to her family and to the world beyond. She carried on acting this role until very recently, in adulthood, when she was able to slough her off and be plain old ALISON, who had always been trying to break through. Ominously, the alter ego had even begun to develop autonomy: you learn how Alison had to deal with that. It is not very pretty. But perhaps it is ingenious.
‘Hapless’ comes into the world because Alison, from earliest memories, has always been told by her mother, the blessed pillar of the community Santa Maria, that she should have been left in a bucket at birth: this child is a superfluous and unlovely thing. So, Alison creates a bouncy, funny, accident-prone lively little girl who might, she hopes, survive, be loved and thrive. To maintain this act over four decades is painful, confusing and psychologically costly; such a peculiar person, though, takes you on a roller coaster ride of bizarre comedy, unusual observation and journeys in the risible hinterland of socially lauded but cruelly dysfunctional families – all while she tries to keep her head straight. Alison possesses two further troubling things: a little black thought that nuzzles in her palm and then periodically grows exponentially and an embolus of fear – always there, waiting to dissect.
The death of the title does not come quickly in a satisfying epiphany and a great big shove; instead, demise begins gradually: there are adventures with psychologists and psychiatrists, long hard thought and a myriad medication. Process completed, however, you are promised a flourish and a very real stifling. Alison’s goal is, ultimately, to be free. All she had ever wanted was to, ‘go out, other than apologetically, or in disguise, hurry-scurry along the wall.’
The book is about serious matters: fear, confusion, dark days of depression and breakdowns. But it is a book intended to be darkly funny: madness and its environs are. Alison recounts the stories of relatives whose lives and actions are stranger than fiction, such as the eerie folk who live at The Hill, Terry the Fat Controller and morphine-dazzled Helen, love affairs with an impressive range of men and some really terrible strange deaths of a skewering and squishing sort. She takes you on some truly, terrifically horrible holidays with a most odd family, such as sojourns in The Fucking Caravan; offers you trysts with hot, sooty, French blacksmiths, a seat at comical funerals, a spot on a sofa with Pentecostalists, the true horror of boiled cabbage and spotted dick and very dead aunts opining, ‘Thou Shalt Not’ from a wall. Moreover, Alison has always had a great range of imaginary friends with whom to talk, survive, laugh and learn. There’s Frida (the brunette one) from Abba, John Keats, Mary Anning the fossil collector, Sylvia Plath, Shirley Bassey, Dolly Parton, and, for comfort, erotic adventures and a first orgasm, there’s the French writer, philosopher and critic, Albert Camus: her ‘Godfather’. Alison has a busy time and a busy head.
The book is inspired by how an individual copes, imaginatively, with bonkers; in this way it is based on personal experience and its pages populated by people its author has encountered or with whom she has lived. But how does it all end? The protagonist’s approach to survival has been unorthodox, but at the end of the book she is still standing, – now just plain old Alison, laughing and taking a bow for Albert Camus. Ultimately, the tale, while it might make you laugh, wince, shudder or even tut at its inappropriate social comedy, also carries with it a timely message to anyone poleaxed by mental illness and its attendant discomforts – or any reader interested in the windings of such things: you can, like Alison, survive and prevail. Ah: but how would you do it? If you had to, would you kill for it? Now that is an interesting question.