“Set in 1960s and ‘70s Australia, The Blood on My Hands is the dramatic tale of Shannon O’Leary’s childhood years, growing up with an abusive father, who was also a serial killer. No one, not even the authorities, would help O’Leary and her family. The responses of those whom O’Leary and her immediate family reached out to for help are almost as disturbing as the crimes of her violent father. Relatives were afraid to bring disgrace to the family’s good name, nuns condemned the child’s objections as disobedience and noncompliance, and laws at the time prevented the police from interfering unless someone was killed.
The Blood on My Hands is a heartbreaking—yet riveting—narrative of a childhood spent in pain and terror, betrayed by the people who are supposed to provide safety and understanding. The strength and courageous resilience it took for O’Leary to not just survive and escape from her father, but to flourish, heal, and triumph over the unimaginable trauma she endured as a child is both powerful and moving.”
The Blood on My Hands is a gripping read, with underlying tension throughout the book, right from the beginning. Every recollection is detailed and concise, be it the author’s memories of her pets and animals or her days at school. It is full of rich descriptions of the characters and the hot Australian setting. The book has a structured, chronological timeline of events, which works without losing the storytelling/memoir feel.
Yet this is not for the weak-hearted. The story is gruelling and traumatic, not for the shock effect, but because this is a story that needs to be told, and the detailed account is an evidence of that. It could be argued that it didn’t need to be so detailed and horrific, and the more traumatising recollections could have been toned down. However, while as a reader, I see the reason why others may feel this way, but as a human, there is credit to be given to Shannon for being so honest and vulnerable on the page.
What makes you read on are the sometimes beautiful moments among the pain. The episodes of pain are scattered on every other page, but they are brief and concisely described. Among them, ‘normality’ is found, too. Like a goat winning the milking championship, the author’s love for her mother and siblings. Even the ways a 6-year old invents and imagines ways to escape have an element of hope in them.
Arguably, the blurb and the cover do not fully do it justice. I feel like the story is a lot more complex than is portrayed, with a lot more to offer, such as Shannon O’Leary’s family history, psychological and social reasons for why her father became that way and was allowed to get away with it for so long. It highlights the faults in the social system at the time which failed to help vulnerable women and families, and faults faults of the police and justice systems in and before the 1960s. How the church and the authorities failed to help them and instead carried on victim blaming the family, rather than punishing the perpetrator of such inhumane crimes. It highlights how we have come so far since then, yet also how we still have work to do to make sure that we don’t ever slip backwards into that state where men are protected while their victims are left to fend and survive while suffering from such abuse. It points to the need to understand mental health and domestic/child abuse better to this day, and how the lines blur between them and need to be better dealt with. These issues are however not limited to Australia but also all over the world. Even in the West, rape victims are to this day, blamed, while the attacker is able to escape with minimum punishment. Which is exactly why I defend the narrative’s gruelling, hard-hitting descriptions and accounts. The story needs to be told this way until this sort of treatment of the victim stops. Until this sort of abuse stops.
All in all, this is a tale of survival and hope, strength and courage after coming out of so much pain and suffering. The ending is by no means unsatisfactory, even if abrupt.
An excerpt from the book can also be found here on my blog.