Anna P: As Told by Herself

Anna P lives a scanty, lonely and uncertain life in a small island off the coast of Italy. She has been a temporary English teacher for almost 20 years. Despite advice, she hasn’t challenged this exploitation. She gets a call from the Home Office. She is being investigated for a murder she can’t quite remember. Ispettore Lupo, the investigation officer, is a typical abusive, vindictive bureaucrat who calls Anna P to his office, in the mainland, every Friday. It is through her journey from her apartment, to school, to the mainland, that Busetto lets us into Anna P’s state of mind. She vaguely remembers what she has done, and places she has been, including her country of origin, South Africa. She is emotionally disconnected from herself and life around her. She “allows” herself to be sexually abused and harassed by the taxi driver, the hotel manager and strangers in trains and bars. Her only relationship, be it transactional, is with Sabrina a prostitute she pays now and again.

Anna P slowly snaps out of herself when she sees a young boy, Ugo, being bullied at school and abused by his uncle. This touches a raw, but deep seated nerve in her and she make an effort to rediscover herself.

Instead of the normal flashback technique, Busetto unravels Anna P’s past through eight sessions she attends with a psychologist. Instead of relating her story to the psychologist, Anna P just sits there and lets her mind do the talking. Her memory slowly and comes back.

It is only at this stage of the book that I feel deep compassion for Anna P, who up till now I had judged as shying away from taking responsibility for her life. At an early age she had been sexually abused by her father, who she later pushed to his death. Later on she is also abused by an older cousin she admires. In burying this secret in the deep chambers of her soul, she subconsciously (or consciously?) blocks off her memory, her past, her pain. She loses speech lest she talks about it. She loses her sense of what is ethically correct, and who she really is.

In the book Busetto presents the harsh realities of abuse in families, its impact on individuals, the family, community and society at large. Over and above the burden of being an abuse victim, Anna P also carries the burden of being a murderer.

Anna P’s attraction to the abused young boy, Ugo, reflects her deep desire, be it subconscious, for love, connection and to belong. These are all emotions blunted in her at early age. But Busetto does not make this obvious. I only discover it towards the end. Earlier in the book I thought it was just her compassion for the boy.

The book is divided into three sections: Book of the Present; Book of Memory: and Book of the Future. The Book of Memory is the glue to Anna P’s past, present and future. The book of the Present is in the form of a diary. The number of days with no entries, represent both the emptiness and scanty nature of Anna P’s life. But it also reinforces her scanty memory.

The effective use of a non-singular narrative point of view in the book confirms Busetto as a skilful writer. She uses the first, second and third narrative points of view for the different sections of the book. In the last two pages the reader is effortlessly paced through the past, present and future tenses.

The choice of the name of the protagonist, Anna P, itself present her a sketchy, somewhat incomplete character.

The book leaves the reader with a profound understanding and appreciation woundedness of the abused mind. I recommend it to victims of sexual abuse, those around them, and professionals working in the field.

Anna P: As Told by Herself is Busetto’s debut novel. She won the 2014 European Union Literary Award.


Penny Busetto