Perfect Victim by Elizabeth Southall and Megan Norris
This book is a true story about the disappearance and murder of 15 year old Rachel Barber in March 1999 in Victoria, Australia. There are two “stories” running parallel – the story of Rachel’s family’s anguish and grief as told by her mother, Elizabeth Barber (using the pen name of Elizabeth Southall), and, an account of the investigation and court case by criminal court reporter, Megan Norris.
Because of the nature of the book, I do not feel it’s relevant to dissect the book as I usually do and talk about characters, plot, setting and voice. These things are what they are…true, disturbing, heartfelt and a complete waste of a young life. It would be wrong for me to “critique” a book which has been written out of love, need and pain, so I am going to talk about this book in relation to the loss of my son in 2006.
The loss of a child by murder and the loss of a child by suicide are two completely different things, yet they are so similar as well. The loved ones of each are left with unending questions that may never be answered. The deep feelings of guilt are overwhelming, although usually unwarranted. The grief is never ending. The lives of everyone close to the person who has gone forever are never the same.
Reading Elizabeth’s words made me cry…not only for her and her daughter, but for me and my son. As I read the Barber family struggles with accepting what had happened and their feelings of isolation, distress and frustration, I thought of my own family facing those same issues.
And then, when Elizabeth spoke directly to her daughter through the book, my heart broke. In her words I heard echoes of my own thoughts and feelings. It was like Rachel’s mother had crawled into my mind and plucked secret thoughts from my head.
Finally, Elizabeth mentioned that she wrote the book not only for herself or for Rachel…she wrote it to make the appropriate authorities – such as the police and the court system – aware of how the family of someone who has gone missing and murdered are feeling, how stressed they are. She needed them to know the anguish, frustration and total devastation felt by Rachel’s family and closest friends. It was important to her to inform and educate them of these things because she didn’t want another family having to deal with the lack of communication and isolation she experienced during the disappearance and then the murder investigation of her daughter. I could relate to the reasons, although in this regard my reasons are quite different. For me, I want to raise suicide awareness in others and I feel the need to educate people about grief.
In conclusion, Elizabeth said that at the time the book was published, it had been three years since her daughter’s death. It has been three years now since my son’s death. She said that her family were trying to move forward, although Rachel’s memory would never be forgotten. My family feels the same way. She mentioned the pain she still felt and the tears still shed on an everyday basis, but especially on “important” dates. I can attest to that as I’m the same. She also said how difficult it was to face everyday questions from strangers, such as “do you have children?” and then the inevitable questions that follow, like “how many?” and “what are their ages?”. For most people, these are easy questions and they eagerly reply. For a parent who has lost a child these questions are difficult and bring a lump to their throat because it’s hard to know how the questions should be answered as we are fully aware that whatever we say someone will feel uncomfortable.