The Little Girl on the Ice Floe

Adelaide Bon, Ruth Diver

The Little Girl on the Ice Floe
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The Little Girl on the Ice Floe

Adelaide Bon, Ruth Diver

Life itself is in these pages: in this candid, poetic style there is storytelling of real quality - LEILA SLIMANI, author of Lullaby

A powerful and personal account of the devastating consequences of childhood rape: a valuable voice for the #MeToo conversation.

Adelaide Bon grew up in a wealthy neighborhood in Paris, a privileged child with a loving family, lots of friends and seemingly limitless opportunity lying ahead of her. But one sunny afternoon, when she was nine years old, a strange man followed her home and raped her in the stairwell of her building. She told her parents, they took her to the police, the fact of the crime was registered … and then a veil was quietly drawn over that part of her childhood, and life was supposed to go on.

Except, of course, it didn’t.

Throughout her adolescence and young adulthood, Adelaide struggles with the aftermath of the horror of that afternoon in 1990. The lingering trauma pervades all aspects of her life: family education, friendships, relationships, even her ability to eat normally.

And then one day, many years later, when she is married and has a small son, she receives a call from the police saying that they think they have finally caught the man who raped her, a man who has hidden in plain sight for decades, with many other victims ready to testify against him.

The subsequent court case reveals Giovanni Costa, the stuff of nightmares and bogeymen, finally vanquished by the weight of dozens and dozens of emotional and horrifying testimonies from all the women whose lives and childhoods he stole.  


As the scale and impact of child sexual abuse is finally becoming acknowledged and understood (though tenuously so, as recent comments by a defence QC in a famous court case chillingly reminded us), the realisation that so many people live with its devastation and trauma is also dawning. Knowing this intellectually is one thing; truly empathising is another. Memoir offers readers a way to begin this journey of deep understanding; survivors might find words of recognition. Adélaïde Bon’s totally compelling book, The Little Girl on the Ice Floe (La Petite Fille sur la Banquise in French), made quite an impression in France, and is now available to read in English translation.

Bon takes readers deep into the experience of her trauma, visited on her at the age of nine, when she was raped by a stranger in the stairwell of her apartment building. Moving deftly between the first, second, and third person (a technique that mirrors the author’s dissociation from the event and her personal growth), Bon leaves nothing off limits in her description of how this act of violence affects every single aspect of her life, from her sexuality and personal relationships, to her very sense of being. The long search for equilibrium involves so many therapeutic modes; she never gives up. Finally, in her thirties, the ordeal begins anew with the arrest of a man who is being charged with multiple instances of her own experience, and we enter the courtroom with Bon. The French legal system is just as brutal on the victims of sexual abuse as Australia’s (as Bri Lee recounted in her ferocious Eggshell Skull). I will admit there were parts of this book I had to stop short of reading: it’s incredibly intense. The literary treatment of this experience, though, is innovative, revealing, and provocative. This story celebrates courage and survival; its telling is a profound political act.

Alison Huber is the head book buyer at Readings.

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