Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Interview with Author Isabelle Duval

November 25 was proclaimed by UNESCO as “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women” in 1999, honouring the deaths of Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa Mirabal. The three were Dominican, sisters, and political activists, and they were murdered because they fervently opposed the dictator who governed the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, Rafael Trujillo Molina. It wasn’t until 1993 that the United Nations General Assembly—which had been operating since 1945—drafted Resolution 48/104 for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, defining it as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

November is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the 16 days between November 25 and December 10 have been designated as the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. For this reason, on behalf of Her Campus McGill, I sat down with Isabelle Duval, a local Montreal author and McGill alumna, to talk about her experience in an abusive relationship, depicted in the fictionalized memoir Inhaled.

The book is written in the first-person, so the story is narrated by the version of “Isabelle” that exists on the page. I asked the Isabelle sitting in front of me to tell me about her stylistic choices and how the genre affected the message she tried to convey. Since the book is based on true events, she started writing by documenting things that were happening around her in a stream-of-consciousness-like manner. “It was part of the therapeutic process for me to write in the first person,” she explained, “Part of me did not want to detach myself from what I was seeing and hearing and feeling. The first-person point of view was non-negotiable.” Isabelle chose the fictionalized memoir genre because she didn’t feel comfortable labelling it a novel: even if the story is structured to fit a book format, with incorporated details, the abuse is real, the characters are real, the feelings are real. “I didn’t want to hide the abuse behind a label.” She also mentioned that this genre served so she could protect herself while she told her story: “When you write a memoir, everything has to be true or you can get accused of defamation. I didn’t want to expose myself to that.”

I also asked Isabelle about the publishing process, if she had met any resistance from editors when she pitched her idea, and how hard it was for a woman writing about domestic abuse to push her book into the market. “Traditional publishing did not even cross my mind. I wanted to publish and I had the means to publish, so I went with self-publishing.” She described it as going “the easy, safe way” for a subject matter that was as transgressive as hers. “Because I had exposed myself so much, it took me about one year to do any marketing for the book. At first I waited and absorbed the feedback to gain confidence, and I realized that I should not be ashamed of having exposed myself but proud of having exposed somebody else.”

In her book, Isabelle writes about the toxic dynamic with an abusive, narcissistic man who put her through emotional and psychological distress and whose sociopathic behaviour endangered her and her daughter’s lives. She met this man online, so I brought up how it is concerning that we are currently living in a society where everyone has Tinder horror stories, and asked for her thoughts on how to make online dating safer for women. “Don’t date when you feel lonely,” she advised, “you will end up settling for anything. You don’t need somebody else to feel whole, build your strength as a woman, as a person, first. Trust your instincts. There are red flags.” In a nutshell, any situation where you feel you and your personal boundaries are not being respected is a red flag. She also warned to keep an eye out for situations that seem too good to be true because they often turn out to be techniques of manipulation, and to understand your loneliness in order to promote it to happy solitude.

The conversation then naturally shifted to the bravery of the women putting their stories of abuse out there like Isabelle did. I asked her if she had felt some sense of responsibility for speaking out before she started writing. She replied in the affirmative: “For sure. I did lose a few friends because I wrote this, but I think it’s important to educate and to provide the victims of abuse with solidarity and reassurance. A woman that stays in an abusive relationship is puzzling from the outside. Everybody asks themselves ‘why does she stay?’ so by writing Inhaled I wanted to educate the public as to what’s going on inside somebody’s head. There are some things that are not necessarily in the control of the victim.” She then told me that I was very courageous for reading her book, but I thought it was she who was the incredibly brave one for writing it.

We discussed the label of “victim,” and Isabelle commented that, in order to take ownership of that label, she promoted herself as a survivor and then thriver throughout her healing process. “The important thing is to not stay in the mind-set of a victim. The first step is recognition. When you decide to face the truth and stop gaslighting yourself, one of the first steps is realizing you were a prey. You have to own it to move onto the next level. Take power and think ‘I won, I’m not the victim anymore’. You have to put all the energy you’re concentrating on trying to understand what happened into healing, to deal with the trauma.”

Since we were out of time for our interview, I thanked her for taking the time to meet me and she gifted me a signed copy of her book, which I appreciated very much. 

                                             

For domestic violence help services in Montreal, you can visit Assistance aux Femmes Montreal (or call 514-270-8291), Auberge Transition (or call 514-481-0495), and the Women's Centre of Montreal (or call 514-842-4780).  

Inhaled is available for purchase on Amazon and Indigo.

 

 

 

Images obtained from: the author's publicist for use by Her Campus McGill or taken by me.