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Witness against evil

04 January 2013

This writer can help everyone, suggests Caroline Bowder

If You Sit Very Still
Marian Partington
Vala Publishing £15.99
Church Times Bookshop £14.40
(Use code CT719) 

MARIAN PARTINGTON wrote this brave and confessional work in order to draw something good out of unspeakable evil. Her sister Lucy was murdered by Fred and Rosemary West. Today, Marian helps prisoners to face their vic- tims and ask forgiveness for their crimes.

Starting from the end of 1973, when Lucy disappeared from a bus stop, Marian recounts the painful phases she endured: 20 years of not knowing what had happened to her clever and innocent 21-year-old sister; then handling the horror of the discovery of Lucy's body, and being part of bringing the Wests to justice; and then trying to understand, and finally trying to forgive, the killers.

What makes the book valuable is Marian's honesty: she admits her own capacity for wrongdoing - as well as murderous rage against the Wests, she feels guilt at her own past abortions. She found herself "not so totally different from the Wests as I might wish to think". She faces truth unflinchingly.

To give shape to the book (beautifully produced by a new co-operative publisher, and funded by grants from the Rowntree Foundation), Partington follows the structure of a medieval poem, Pearl, a work loved by both sisters. Helped by religion - Lucy's Catholicism, and her own searching in Buddhism and final acceptance into the Quakers - the author also learns from dreams. "If you sit very still you can hear the sun move," her dreamed sister tells her. The writing includes occasional pedantry, and florid passages, sometimes directly addressing Lucy and quoting her poems . . . but all is part of the process of expressing what was important and led to resolution - and the triumph of love.

How can the ordinary reader criticise the professions of one who has undergone such gross damage, such evil, and emerges able to bring about forgiveness? This book could help us all.

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