I first came across Judith Barrow via Facebook, where she was a friend of another author that I’d got to know online. Judith impressed me with her professional, energetic promotion of a novel about a difficult subject: the devastating effects of a legal drug on generations of women. I was also very interested to see how fiction could be used to promote and support a very real medical cause.
This is how Judith describes the book on her Amazon author page:
“Silent Trauma is the result of years of research, and the need to tell the story in a way that readers will engage with the truth behind the drug Stilboestrol. So I had the idea of intertwining this main theme around and through the lives of four fictional characters, four women, all affected throughout their lives by the damage the drug has done to them. Their stories underpin all the harm the drug has done to so many women all over the world. The story is fictional, the facts are real.”
To be honest, I had never heard of Stilboestrol (known as DES for short), the drug at the heart of this novel, but it affected my generation, as did the better-known and equally disastrous drug thalidomide. My mother could easily have taken either of these drugs, so I had at the back of my mind “There but for the grace of God go I.”
When Judith Barrow asked me whether I’d be prepared to read and review Silent Trauma, I hesitated, worried that I might find the subject matter too upsetting: miscarriages, infertility, unimaginably awful and embarrassing genital defects caused by the drug. Gently, she persisted, and I so respected her quiet determination and dedication to her cause that I agreed to try, on condition that if I didn’t feel able to finish the book, I shouldn’t feel compelled.
In the event, once I’d read the first chapter, traumatic as it was, I had to continue, and barely put the book down till it was finished.
It would be very easy for any story about such a terrible tragedy to fall into pathos, mawkishness or campaigning anger. Judith Barrow’s novel is therefore all the stronger for its restraint and lack of sentimentality. While provoking a sensitive, heart-rending account of the cruel havoc the drug has wreaked, the story impresses the reader with the huge dignity and bravery of those suffering from the drug’s effects. The book also provides an inspiring argument that powerful campaigns can grow from the tiniest of beginnings – and this book should be a significant part of the campaign for the victims of DES.
The only criticism I would make of it as a novel was the sparseness of the physical description of the various settings, characters’ appearances etc. Although the characters are extremely well-drawn, their individual tragedies subtly unfolding as they get to know each other, I would have liked a little more colour and detail. For example, we are told a character gets into her Ford, but it would make a big difference whether it was a battered old rusting Cortina or a funky, bright pink Ka. Although that might seem like a frivolous point, it would have added another dimension to the character. It’s the sort of detail that might be added in at a late-stage edit, but I can completely understand why the author might have skipped that stage in her urgency to get this story out there before readers and so to help the drug’s victims.
After I’d finished the book, its details and its message haunted me, and I still wonder whether I know anyone personally who has been affected by it, who just hasn’t liked to say – like some of the characters in the book. I hope that my book review will help further Judith Barrow’s campaign.
Other Novels by Judith Barrow
Judith is an accomplished author and creative writing tutor with another highly-acclaimed novel to her name, Pattern of Shadows, set in a British prisoner-of-war camp in Lancashire . Its sequel, Changing Patterns, is due for launch next month. If you’re not sure about reading Silent Trauma, I’d recommend giving her other books a try. They’re certainly on my to-read list.
Other useful links: