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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dragon Slippers: This is what an abusive relationship looks like

Writer and artist: Rosalind B. Penfold
Publisher: Harper Collins

All images taken from the Dragon Slippers website.

What's it about?
Dragon Slippers chronicles the life of Rosalind B Penfold as she moves from a happy, successful career into an abusive relationship, and eventually out again.
Warning - the images used within this post may prove triggering for some readers.  None are graphic or violent but they do show conversations and events used to humiliate and control.

Rosalind B Penfold is a pseudonym, although all events depicted in the book are real and happened to the writer.  The book is created from diary entries she drew whilst in the relationship.  They are woven together with a narrative that explains to the reader how events are linked, how they they felt at the time, and how she feels about them now.
It's split into 9 sections: the introduction told in prose; Getting In - The Honeymoon; Getting Lost - Jekyll & Hyde; Getting Hurt - Holding On; Getting Out - Letting Go; Coming Home - Finding Myself;  Epilogue - 5 Years Later; and the Acknowledgements.  We see the relationship as it develops through Penfold's eyes - the love and affection showered on her at the beginning; the first signs of control and abuse from Brian (the husband); the warnings from friends and family; the swings from proclamations of love to more severe abuse; and, at last, Rosalind's escape.
What's good about it?
Given the subject matter, it seems a little crass to talk about this like I would any other book.  It's a personal account, pulled together from Penfold's diaries.  If I criticise the way it's been pulled together, am I criticising her life?  The material forming this book was never created to be put in a book, it is segments from Penfold's diaries, drawn to record and help her through the relationship.
I suppose I can legitimately talk about the editing, and how it has been put together.  It's a powerful book.  I have been assured by domestic violence experts that it is good.  The narrative directly addresses the reader, providing links between the panels and background information to the drawn events.  The first page is 35 square panels of Rosalind thinking of reasons why her partner is abusive, why she should stay or leave, and whether he loves her or not.  The second and third page is Rosalind asking the reader to hold a torch for her while she searches for a box in the cellar.  This creates an intensely personal and emotional connection between the reader and Rosalind, one which continues throughout the book.
As an education about domestic violence, it is invaluable.  I imagine it would serve as a very good teaching aid, and as a support book for other women suffering domestic abuse.  It outlines clearly the warning signs and shows how relationships move from seemingly full of love and respect to hell.  I think everybody should read it to learn the realities of domestic violence.
What's bad about it?
Again, I don't feel like I can really criticise this.  It's not an entertainment book, created for profit; it's an awareness raising book. You read it because you are interested in domestic abuse, maybe you are in an abusive relationship, maybe you know someone who is, maybe you just have an interest in women's lives.
I suppose this is where I would put a trigger warning for the book, because it will no doubt cause flashbacks in some readers.
What's the art like?
If this were a book for which an artist was paid to create a story about an imaginary person suffering domestic violence, I would feel justified in criticising it. However the art was drawn by Rosalind as a private diary, not for profit.  So I am not going to make a judgement on its artistic worth.  The art tells the story, and gives an insight into her suffering that would not be possible in the written word.

Price: Currently out of print, but available used from Amazon sellers for under £10.
ISBN: 0007216882
The Dragon Slippers website is here.
Available in various languages - for more information see here.
If you are suffering from domestic abuse (or if you are not sure if your relationship is abusive or not) here is a list of helpful organisations across the world.  And please, get help.

View the first few pages on Amazon here.

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