Five stories – Five Lives
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance? Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim. In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself, followed by a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Lastly, there is Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.
Published June 8th 2016
Manipulated Lives is a book of five short stories, all very different but centred around the theme of manipulation. The characters in each story range from an elderly lady who is dying, a young woman swept up in a relationship with a single father and his young son, a teenager who is desperate to fit in and a woman who motherhood comes to later in life. What’ makes each of these stories stand out is that manipulation can come from anywhere, and was often not from the person you may expect. It also draws attention to the fact that anyone is open to manipulation, victims coming from all walks of life and at any age.
There’s something deeply dark and disturbing about Leuschel’s writing that really unnerved me. Perhaps, having been the victim of manipulation myself, the incredibly raw and stark narrative hit a nerve. It made it a little uncomfortable to read, because I truely believed in these character’s. This is not a criticism, more testament at the author’s ability to really understand and convey the emotional as well as the physical abuse her characters go through. I think for me, it hit a nerve slightly and made me feel uneasy at times.
Of all the stories, I think the first book stands out. Tess and Tattoo’s tells the story of an elderly woman in a care home, who reveals some of her past to a carer she befriends. The book shows though that we should never assume or judge, as her carer eventually finds out that Tess’s past wasn’t the one she’d initially thought. I also thought The Runaway Girl captured the vulnerability of teenagers well while My Perfect Child tackles the taboo and less talked about topic of parents being abused by their offspring.
I’ve read very few short story collections in my life, feeling that they weren’t for me. After reading Manipulated Lives I remain unsure. On the one hand, I appreciated the snapshots – like peeking into other peoples homes and understanding what happens behind closed doors. I also was impressed which how well drawn each story and character was in such short pieces of writing. However, I also felt that I wanted to know more, have more closure, follow them through a journey.
Manipulated Lives isn’t an easy book to read being so disturbingly true to life. It’s extremely intimate, almost confessional and got under my skin at times but at the same time thought provoking, intriguing and compelling to read. If you are intrigued behind the psychology of manipulation, then I think this is a book you may not enjoy but will certainly appreciate.
About The Author
Helene Andrea Leuschel grew up in Belgium where she gained a Licentiate in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. She now lives with her husband and two children in Portugal and recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. When she is not writing, Helene works as a freelance journalist and teaches Yoga.