Oh, Stolen: A Letter to my Captor… Let me recount the ways in which I loved thee.
My personal history with this book comes from Oceana, a friend of mine on GoodReads who said this was her favourite novel ever. I currently attend the same university that the author, Lucy Christopher graduated from, with Stolen being the novel she wrote to gain her PhD. In a few months’ time, I will be going to a plenary lecture in which she talks about her success and her writing career. So I knew I had to get around to reading Stolen ASAP.
Stolen tells the story of Gemma, a young British girl who is abducted from Bangkok Airport, and wakes up in the middle of the Australian outback. There’s no civilisation for hundreds of miles, the sun blazes overhead, and while the deserted scenery may be breathtaking, it’s not as enjoyable when you’re being held against your will.
Gemma has been kidnapped by a young man named Ty, whose motivations are completely fanatical. He’s been watching over Gemma for most of her life, and is utterly convinced that the only way his life can continue is if she is with him. And to this end, he builds a house in the Australian outback and takes her away from all she’s ever known. It’s not for devious means either – Ty doesn’t want to force Gemma into loving him (as she suspects to begin with), nor does he want to kill her (as Gemma suspects a little later on). He merely seeks a companion… for the end of the world, you could say.
I love the writing and characterisation here. You can perfectly imagine the harsh, unforgiving, unbearably hot weather, and the rest of the scenery. Ty’s mood-swings are harrowing to read, and Gemma, the poor girl, just tries her best to keep her head above water in this new situation. She cries when she starts forgetting details about her home life, she recalls back to her friends in London, and tries to run off or fight Ty several times. However, Ty is an expert at emotional manipulation, and always manages to make Gemma feel bad for what she just did.
Near the halfway point, Ty takes Gemma out to capture a feral camel, and builds a pen for it back at the house, in the hopes of taming it the hard, old-fashioned way. Now, who else was taken away from all she knew and is also in the process of being ‘tamed’? Yep, Gemma herself.
Ty is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read. I was worried he’d come across as either creepy or one of those broken, damaged souls – a Draco in Leather Pants, so to speak. But nope, he’s neither of those things. He is damaged, but this isn’t justification for his actions. He just honestly believes getting back to nature and ‘the land’, according to the Aboriginal Australians and bushmen who helped raise him on his childhood farm, is the best way of living. He watches over Gemma in London for several years whilst searching for his mother in England, and feels like it’s his obligation to take Gemma away and keep her by his side.
If you’re worrying about how the novel could be romanticising Stockholm syndrome, don’t worry. There’s none of that to be had here. Ty tries so hard to break Gemma’s spirit, and every now and again, you get hints of something sinister creeping up into Gemma’s point of view. Or hell, Ty even drops this creepy bombshell: ‘People should love what needs loving. That way they can save it.’
The novel follows Gemma throughout her captivity, and man, every single time she has a chance of escaping, you are there with her. If any one of you has read the Stephen King novel Misery, in which the main character Paul has to sneak around the house while Annie is out, it’s similar to that. Well, I suppose Gemma doesn’t have to worry about Ty sawing off her foot, but still. That level of immersion is superb.
The end of the book ties everything up very nicely, as Ty tries to save her life by resorting to some rather drastic measures. This part has just as much nail-biting ‘will-she won’t-she’ moments as Gemma wrestles with her conscience and argh.
Absolutely stellar read. 5/5.