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How exactly is it that an independent, strong-minded, clever woman can become involved in an abusive relationship? It’s an age-old question, one that literary agent and writer Jeanne Ryckmans sets out to answer in Trust, her personal experience of a relationship that becomes destructive and ultimately violent.
Trust is a darkly funny book – part memoir, part historical research, part detective story – charting Ryckmans’ unfortunate involvement with someone referred to in the book as the Irish Professor. The professor is a veritable Tom Ripley, who, it seems, has done more than kiss the Blarney stone, he’s adopted blarney as his modus operandi, bouncing from one academic job to another, leaving behind him a trail of unpaid debts and uncompleted projects.
Jeanne Ryckmans has written a darkly funny account of her terrible experiences with the Irish Professor.Credit:
To start towards the end of the book, in late 2019, following an assault by the Irish Professor, Ryckmans went to the emergency department of her nearest hospital. The Irish Professor was arrested and charged, but the charges were dismissed by the Downing Centre Local Court in April 2020 on the condition that the Irish Professor comply with a mental health treatment plan. “Trust,” Ryckmans said in an interview at the time, “is a nebulous concept.”
A little more than three years later, Ryckmans has produced this fine little gem of a book on the nebulous concept, grabbing the reader’s attention and imagination with her attention to the tiniest of details. One of the many lightly humorous touches in a story that deals with the bleakest of subjects – abuse, coercion, control, narcissism and corruption – is the nomenclature given to all the characters. Thus, we have an Important British Banker, the Almost Third Wife, the Clever Psychiatrist and the Playwright, to name but a few – giving a somewhat ironic twist to the concept of Happy Families.
Ryckmans has employed clever techniques for describing how she became enmeshed in a relationship that ended in violence and apprehended violence orders, exploring not only her personal involvement, but also the paper trail of disastrous jobs, grants unaccounted for and constant swindles – most of which are disturbingly ignored or swept under the carpet by the academic institutions taken in by the Irish Professor.
Trust is the currency the Irish Professor seems to believe he deals in, while seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is trust that he breaks over and over again.
The book opens on the remote island of Inishbofin off the west coast of Ireland after the death of the Irish poet and playwright Tom MacIntyre, who lived there for a few years in the early 1970s with a young woman American graduate student. The relationship didn’t last, but the romantic notion of life on a remote island continued to call in creatives, including the Irish Professor, who persuaded Ryckmans in early 2016 to accompany him to his beloved island. (An island where he will later buy land, not pay for it, start building a house and not complete it, and generally leave behind his usual trail of destruction.)
The island, a character in itself, reappears throughout the book, telling us stories of “creatives” who seem to have gone there only to lose their minds (not a great advertisement for a place to live, one would think).
Its stark physical landscape stands in contrast to the Irish Professor’s love of luxury, his apparent massive sense of entitlement, his flamboyant seduction of people and institutions, and his ability to wriggle out of any difficult situation, leaving someone else to pay the bill. Become an importer of Persian carpets? No problem. Buy carpets of dubious quality and manage to dump them on someone else? No problem. Get caught using the university credit card, get reprimanded, move on. His moniker of the Irish Professor somehow enhances the ludicrous pomposity of this “small, neat man”.
Despite the layered entertainment of the narrative, Trust is no laughing matter. Reading Ryckmans’ emotional decline as she becomes more entangled in the Irish Professor’s life and his web of deceit is painful in the extreme.
Ryckmans courageously puts it all down, describing in hauntingly succinct prose the horror of the verbal, emotional and physical abuse that finally leads to her laying charges and taking back her life. She leads us to the uncomfortable understanding that in the right (or wrong) circumstances, a breakdown of trust could happen to anybody.
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