The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chun
Book Review / Psychologiacl Novel

The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chun

The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chun

Book: The Eighth Girl

Author: Maxine Mei-Fung Chun

Publisher: William Morrow

Pages: 480

Price: Click the link

 

The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chun

Introduction:

It is a brilliant debut novel by Mei-Fung Chun, a Psychoanalytic and clinical supervisor. She studied comprehensively trauma, sexuality, clinical dissociation of women. Here in this novel, she explores the symptoms of DND in the character of Alexa.

“Dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder, is caused by many factors, including trauma in early childhood. This leads to depersonalization (detachment from one’s mind, self, or body) or derealization (experiences of the world as unreal) and dissociative amnesia (inability to remember events, periods, or life history, and in rare cases complete loss of identity).”

The Story:

“The girl would see, in the locking of her mind with Freud’s, how cruelly her understanding had deceived her.”—Philip Rieff, introduction to Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, by Sigmund Freud.

 

The epigraph set the tone and tenor of the novel that is a patchwork of Alexa’s psyche…multilayered psyche.

I love Alexa…her posture, her exquisite green eyes and engrossing beauty. Her multiple personalities, brilliant yet confused personalities make the novel beautiful. The prologue begins poetically:

 The Voices come and go. Like flu. Weather. Weekend shags. I’m unsure how long they’ve been here, or if they intend to stay. I want to say they’re friendly.

The very opening sentence, “ The voices come and go reminds me of Prufrock in  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot: 

“Let us go then, you and I,”

Like Alexa, Prufrock is also suffering from multiple personalities. The ‘you’ and the ‘I’ are two selves within him.

“In the room, the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.”

This ‘come’ and ‘go’ repeat in both Eliot and Maxine Mei-Fung Chun

Alexa’s life is controlled and circulated by her stepmom Anna, her doctor Daniel, her friend Ella. Ella loves her madly and cares for her.

Alexa fought with her multiple personality disorder and the plot progressed in this aspect.

Her childhood is traumatic. Her biological mother killed herself. Alexa’s father had moved away and her stepmother Anna is extra caring, according to her as she discloses that to her new doctor Daniel.  Ela and Anna formed the world of Alexa’s secret.

“Ella and Anna are the only people besides my previous shrink who know about my other personalities. During my third year of therapy, I decided to come clean and confessed to the other people living inside me, and that was when I was given a diagnosis of DID.”

But Anna cannot understand the variance of her personality or rather does not want to face this in medical terms.

 “Anna has less of a grasp on my condition because she chooses to live in denial and think of my personalities more like moods. The very idea of others living inside me freaks her out, so I guess it’s just easier for her this way.”

But for Ella, it is fine to cope with Alexa’s switch of personalities.

Unlike Anna, Ella can handle it—them—us. The Flock. And even though she finds it rather amusing at times, she is incredibly attuned to us all. She can usually tell when one of us has taken the Light and seized control of the Body. Take last week: Ella and I were waiting for the Tube when Dolly, not realizing we’d left home, woke up and caught sight of a moving train and completely freaked. Ella immediately noticed the switch—a childlike look of confusion, the simple in-turn of feet and wringing of hands—then put her arm around us for comfort.”

As her previous consultant, Dr. Joseph Applebaum retired and moved out of London to spend more time with his family, Alexa decided to resume her therapy with another and she meets Daniel.

“She is pretty and shy, with a pale, almost translucent complexion. She dodges my gaze, instead of focusing on my collar like an orphan longing to be hugged. Her eyes, I observe, are jade green and flecked with gold, wide and unsure. Her shoulders hunched. Hands nervous and wringing.”

At first, she does not like to reciprocate and cooperate with the list of medicines. But later when convinced she does. She does not expose herself to the vulnerability of sympathy shown to her as Daniel asks her about her mind at the departure of her father but she expresses her love for photography, kinda passion.

 

“I like taking photographs.” She smiles. “Always have. On my thirteenth birthday, my father gave me a disposable camera and I just got into it. It’s been a way for me to absorb truth and beauty. It soothes me.”

Alexa’s life gets entangled and twisted, even more, when her best friend Ella joined work in London at a local gentleman’s club, Electra. Alexa suspects the work of Ella and to keep an eye upon her she stats dating the bartender there. But very soon the suspension leaks out as it gets clear that Navid, the owner of the club Electra is a human trafficker who is exploiting underage girls from Asia and forcing them into pornography. He also tries to explore Ella. Alexa continues her vigilance over Ella, and the red-faced Navid being Dolly and she also confesses that to her doctor. She criticizes her Alexa self and praises the Dolly self for the amusement and sincerity of the doctor.

Now while facing all these different sides of Alexa, her councillor Daniel gets obsessed with her life and to get rid of it he plans to spend a vacation with his girlfriend Monica. Daniel is already devastated by the death of his wife and rearing up their only daughter by himself. Monica forced him for a baby. But for Daniel, it was too stressful. And the conflict breaches their relationship. Disturbed Daniel returns to find Alexa in more troubled condition, more confused.

He encourages her most powerful self to raise. Police take Alexa for her statement. Finally, the gang of human traffickers have arrested Navid Mahal, Cassie Wang, Shaun, the ringleaders are arrested.

Plot and Narrative:

The book The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chun is a lengthy and pompous one in a matter of plot and structure. Several voices and narrative techniques capture the dark and disturbing life of Alexa, the protagonist. So the reader has to be alert and conspicuous over the ever-shifting narrative modes within two characters- the patient and the doctor- Alexa Wú and Daniel Rosenstein.

No reliability shapes the narrative techniques here as the whole narrative frame is balancing upon two voices.

The language is gripping and permeated with the lingering effect of soothing sympathy towards Alexa.

“There is no small corner of the world I wish to claim and delight in. No one who knows the stir in my gut. The burn. All my mistakes frozen in the tight lock of my face.”

Again the words and phrases are imbued with emotional overflow in a detached manner that at the same time drag you close to Alexa and then push you afar.

Themes:

Disturbed Childhood:

Alexa in her life faced trauma from her very childhood that moulds her disturbed personality. Her mother’s suicide, her father’s cruelty spur her insecurity and disturbed personality.

Multiple Personalities:

The novel deals with the multiple personalities within the character of a single human entity-Alexa wu. She lives and counters her different personalities in this fiction and moulds them accordingly with positive or negative energy.

Human Trafficking:

Apart from the theme of DND, another serious issue is drawn here with sincerity and concern. It is the vulgar crime of forcing girls and women as sex workers. Under the illusion of neon light, the bars like Electra and the person like Navid carries on the most criminal offences. Alexa with her multifaced identities probes into the case and finally helps the police to capture the gang.

Characters:

Alexa Wu: She is a talented photographer of 26 who dwells within multiple personalities. She is beautiful with her blue eyes.

Ella Collette: She is Alexa’s best friend and bonafide who gifts her a stunning pair of gemstone earrings matching her eyes. Alexa and Ella enjoy a cordial relationship. And most confusingly Ella is Alexa’s other personality.

Anna: She is dominating, priggish and authoritarian in his behaviour to Alexa. She is also concerned and caring. Like Ella, she may be Alexa’s other personality.

Daniel Rosenstein: He is Alexa’s new therapist upon whose life the author has focused another light. He has lost his wife and is left in this world with his only daughter.

“Your patients are absolutely everywhere, Dad!” She cried freely. “On the desk, on the walls, over there on the shelves. They’re even in the goddamn kitchenette! You know what? You should start paying them!”

The Name: The Eighth Girl:

Maxine Mei-Fung Chun’s novel The Eighth Girl connotes the different personalities of Alexa. And among those multiple personalities ‘eighth’ is the strongest and most prevalent one. Alexa always relates herself in plural terms to emphasize the multiple personalities:

 “Unlike Anna, Ella can handle it—them—us. The Flock. And even though she finds it rather amusing at times, she is incredibly attuned to us all. She can usually tell when one of us has taken the Light and seized control of the Body. Take last week: Ella and I were waiting for the Tube when Dolly, not realizing we’d left home, woke up and caught sight of a moving train and completely freaked. Ella immediately noticed the switch—a childlike look of confusion, the simple in-turn of feet and wringing of hands—then put her arm around us for comfort.”

So from Alexa, the personality turns into Dolly.

“Most people wouldn’t know what to do with so many personalities set loose in one body. That’s one of the reasons we’re so close, Ella and I. Even though we’re very different—opposites, even—she’s not once made us feel mad or bad or unlovable.”

The underlined words, mostly ‘us’ showcase the existence of so many characters within one body. She is not a single entity, but she belongs to a  folk…she is Anna, she is Ella, she is Grace, she is Dolly. She gets confused at the fact which self she should accept and which not, which she should give priority and which should be suppressed.

Finally, the eighth self wins the race – Alexa.

“You’re Alexa,” I finally say, “ornithologist to the Flock. Someone who has done her absolute best to nurture parts of herself under heinous circumstances. Someone who knitted a family of personalities to survive. Your past doesn’t have to define who you are, Alexa, but it can inform who you might wish to be. With time.”

Alvina’s Verdict:

I must be truthful that I cannot complete the novel in a single flow. as I get lost sometimes in the maze of twisted plots. But again after a few days, I pick it up with a stubbornness to win it.

I don’t have any inclination or the least interest in psychological fiction. Anyway, I pick it up from the name…something special about the eighth daughter….some extra vigour or stamina that other daughters lack. I unwillingly complete it as I feel it was drawing me towards the pages…towards Alexa, towards Daniel.

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Author

munu.ruku2020@gmail.com
Hi, I'm Munmun here and welcome to my book review blog. I'm an English Teacher. But more than that I love to read books and write down my thoughts. I feel we can change the world by circulating the introspections of great columnists throughout the world. You are free to contact me at munu.ruku2020@gmail.com.

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