The Girls by Chloe Higgins
I originally questioned the choice of title for this book as the words ‘girl/s’ are so commonly used in this context. I wondered if a different title could have been chosen. Now that I have read The Girls by Chloe Higgins, I realise that it was the only possible choice.
When she is seventeen, Higgins stays home to study for her HSC exams while her two younger sisters, Carlie and Lisa, go on an annual ski trip with their father. On their return, the three are involved in a horrific car accident. While the girls’ father is pulled out from the driver’s seat, the two sisters are incinerated in the back.
The Girls recounts Higgins’s experiences from this event to the present day. The way each member of the surviving family handles their grief differs enormously. Higgins’s main reaction is shock; she feels the memory of her sisters fading and, after time in a psychiatric hospital, becomes involved in drugs and sex work. She does this partly to get a sense of freedom from her parents; especially from her mother, for whom Higgins must now represent three children. The great tragic figure of this story, however, is the father. Consumed by guilt that he has killed two of his daughters, his diary entries following the accident are heartbreaking.
Themes include the effect of trauma on mind and body, the burden of surviving, mental health, and co-dependency. The definition of memoir is also openly explored and queried as often what Higgins recalls differs from what others remember. Parts of the book take on meta elements; the author includes some of her editorial comments and often discusses the writing of her book with others (including their questions and criticisms). Higgins has made some brave decisions in writing this memoir, especially in relation to the consequences for her parents, but the beautiful final chapter and last line make me think she has written it for all the family; especially for the girls.