Monday, August 31, 2020


GIRL FROM THE TREE HOUSE by Gudrun Frerichs (2019)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

It all unraveled at the funeral... Horace Reid's death opened the door to our freedom. His widow, Elizabeth, exists only on paper. She disappeared thirty years ago. It's us, the Tribe, who live in her body now. But nobody knows that. Us are Elise, the reluctant host, Lilly the closer, Ama, the proverbial mother, Sky, our wise guide, Amadeus, the warrior, and Luke, the man around the house. There are others, but we make sure they stay hidden and away from harm.

After Horace's funeral, they tried to lock us in a mental hospital. Our sister-in-law had it all carefully planned. Thanks to quick thinking—yes, being a multiple has its advantages—we escaped to New Zealand's South Island. Tucked away in the West Coast wilderness we... well, the plan was to continue our healing. We didn't expect that monsters from our past still had us on their radar. When the police accuse us of murder we have to run again. Where to go, which way to turn? Our neighbor Scott appears helpful, but can we trust him? Can we trust ourselves? Can we trust anyone?

The author of GIRL FROM THE TREE HOUSE, Gudrun Frerichs, worked for 25 years as a psychotherapist specialising in trauma. She's now written this astounding book, a fictional and moving account of Elizabeth, a thirty-two year old woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Elizabeth has many personalities, and this story is told from the perspective of the four core identities, avoiding any graphic descriptions of the reasons how Elizabeth was traumatised to this extent, providing a moving, clear and informative outline of the difficulties she battles every day of her life.

Setting a sensitive, and thoughtful depiction of somebody's experience of DID within a form of psychological thriller plot is an inspired choice by this author, especially as there is nothing manipulative or exploitative about the way that the plot is expanded. There's no gory murders, there are no games played with Elizabeth's motivations or actions, but there is threat, and there's an incredible sense of a woman coming to terms with her life's journey and escaping the control of others.

The different personalities have, as you'd expect, their reasons for being, their tasks in life if you like, and their awareness or not of each other. There's an elegant balancing of threat and empowerment though - there are suggestions that it's because of the multiple personalities that Elizabeth is able to escape a bad situation, take some control of her own life, and it works. It's believable, empathetic without ever feeling manipulative, funny without making you question your reactions, and cleverly pitched.

A masterclass in showing, not telling, acutely observational and informative, GIRL FROM THE TREE HOUSE was an absolute standout read for me this year. It's number one in a planned series "Women of Our Time". Can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the next one.

GIRL FROM THE TREEHOUSE has been shortlisted for the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best NovelShe kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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