As a connoisseur of memoir, I thought I had read it all: stunningly dysfunctional families, toxic relationships, addictions. But I have never read a memoir as terrifying as Maude Julien’s The Only Girl in the World. Newly translated into English, this is the must-read memoir of the season for those who, like me, have read them all.
Today Julien is a French psychotherapist specializing in patients who are recovering from extreme psychological and behavioral control, such as cult victims. Julien had the misfortune of being born to a completely unhinged father who was able to disguise his insanity from the outside world. A high-ranking Freemason, he believed that his daughter would become a “supreme being” as long as she was raised under his control in complete isolation.
Julien’s father had previously adopted, raised and “trained” her mother, and he turned their remote château in the French countryside into a chamber of horrors. As a child, Julien was introduced to unthinkable trials designed to toughen her up: meditations on death in a rat-infested cellar, being forced to hold onto an electric fence. Written in a childlike first-person voice, this memoir brings to life Julien’s horrifying experiences and her subtle rebellions against her parents as she refuses to be broken. The reader, too, is trapped and riveted by her story. An epilogue, written from her adult perspective, explains Julien’s theory of the cultlike psychological and behavioral control she was subjected to, and how it continues to shape her dreams and fears. This is a truly fascinating and intense read, and highly recommended.