Girl From The Tree House is more than a psychological thriller. It’s a complex and engaging story of a New Zealand woman with Disassociative Identity Disorder.
Elizabeth Reid, or Elise, as she prefers to call herself, has been married to Horace Reid for twenty four years. He and his sister Helen have sent her to various psychiatrists to try and deal with what they call her craziness. Elise has secretly been seeing her own therapist, but her suggestion that Elise might have multiple personality disorder is one Elise can’t accept. Then, following her husband’s funeral, she finds herself in her aunt’s house on the West Coast, a place she hasn’t visited since childhood. How did she get there? While Elise grapples with this question and what’s going on inside her body, there are bigger questions about her past and her parents that need answering.
Along with Elise, the story is narrated by the different personalities who occupy Elizabeth Reid’s body. The first is Lilly. Others are Ama, and Sky. These characters, comprise the ‘Tribe’, a complex network of personalities prepared to take whatever measures necessary to protect the body in which they live – that of little Elizabeth, who Lilly asserts has been gone for quite some time – from physical and emotional trauma. The terrible secrets of their past are following them into the present. Why was Horace made Elizabeth’s guardian after her parents died in a car crash when she was ten, and why did he then marry her at eighteen despite being forty nine? Why won’t Helen stop looking for her now she has run away? Why does her new home keep triggering reactions, and what are her personalities protecting her from? As the Tribe begins to communicate with Elise through the help of a diary, the murder of the lawyer looking into her case accelerates the need to find out what is going on.
Disassociative Identity Disorder is little understood or acknowledged. It is a condition in which different personalities operate in the same body possibly as a response to extreme, often repetitive, childhood trauma. Author Gudrun Frerichs is a retired psychotherapist and trauma specialist who has worked with clients diagnosed with DID. Her work of fiction is prefaced by the need to share ‘understanding and compassion’ for those living with multiple personalities as a result of emotional, physical or sexual trauma. She states that ‘Multiples are neither green-eyed monsters nor raving lunatics that need to be locked up’. Rather DID is a ‘human adaptation’ and those who are diagnosed with it need to be treated with respect, care and support.
As a work of fiction, Girl From the Tree House is exceptional. I am not usually a fan of thrillers, but I finished it in a single sitting. Frerichs handles Elizabeth Reid’s condition deftly, incorporating her professional knowledge of this disorder with realistic characters who are easy to empathise with.
This is the first in a series. It would be an excellent book for a book club. It deserves to be read, thought over and debated. Read it, relish it, and wait with bated breath for the next.
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley
Published by Gudrun Frerichs