Author Under The Spotlight: Jemima Atar
Rising British author Jemima Atar is a thoughtful writer in every sense of the word.
As her two published books to date, a deeply personal memoir and bestselling poetry collection, attest, she writes to help others, exploring a myriad of sensitive themes including trauma, abuse, and grief.
And she does so with an enviable combination of focus, clarity, and sparkling literary flourish, akin to observing an object immersed in a flute of the finest champagne.
But, given that she is currently training to become a psychotherapist — having previously practiced in an NHS community IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) service and now working towards a doctorate in Counselling Psychology — she is also thoughtful in its literal meaning, being fascinated by, and an expert on, matters of the mind.
This was already signalled in her debut title, 2021’s Grief and Her Narrative: A Memoir of Sudden Therapist Loss.
A memoir that details a form of grief not commonly addressed in psychotherapeutic fields or elsewhere — losing a therapist — it offers Jemima’s own experiences while candidly asking readers to engage in asking questions about their own experiences with loss.
Many of these questions have no clear answers, but the process of self-examination and meditation in and of itself is what is important here, and represents a helpful part of the resolution process for shame, trauma, and separation.
One of the most interesting aspects of Grief and Her Narrative is its enquiry into the depth of a therapeutic relationship.
Jemima notes the observation of the renowned existential psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and author Irvin Yalom that a kind of ‘friendship’ between therapist and client is a prerequisite for successful therapy, with both acting as “fellow travellers” meeting in a caring encounter, and being vulnerable enough to let the other person matter to them.
This subject is of particular interest to Jemima and, as we shall see, will be revisited in her writing.
A year after the release of Grief and Her Narrative, Jemima returned with her debut poetry collection, you are safe now.
The thematic driver of the verse is the trauma of sexual abuse and its emotional, physical, and spiritual impact on the individual.
There is an emotional rawness and immediacy to the poems that are made all the more potent given that they are inspired by the personal experiences of many survivors of sexual abuse, including those of the author (who poignantly dedicates the book to “the younger me”).
Take, for example, conversations with the younger me, which reads …
I see you now and
I had to leave you then.
We made it
You brave thing
and I am so proud of you
The poem I found most arresting, meanwhile, is I will plant myself again someday:
the vitality from
had all the juice
and I was left
with the seeds
There is not an ounce of fat on the words, which are insightful, pithy, and breathtakingly moving all at the same time.
The poetry covers many complementary themes including the loss of childhood and reconnecting to the inner child, the loss and reclaiming of faith in oneself, and the journey from powerlessness and voicelessness to self-definition and finding the confidence to speak out.
A worthy Amazon bestseller upon release, all of the poems within you are safe now are brief and can be dipped into time and again as one would with a book of haiku or a little book of wisdom, making it the ideal companion to someone on their own journey of healing.
Now, Jemima has undertaken her most ambitious project to date: a yet-to-be-published literary novel titled Pourquoi.
An existential exploration of complexity in the self and with others, I have been lucky to receive an early look at the novel, which I would be so bold as to consider a modern classic in the making.
Taking up similar themes to Jemima’s previous works, and with that same dual intent of accompanying both her own and others’ healing journeys, this will, I’m sure, prove the title that will transition her writing career into the big time.
The story explores the complicated situation that arises when the boundaries of a therapeutic relationship between practitioner and client become blurred.
The client, Delphine, is of upper-class European heritage. She works as an associate university lecturer and is also a painter.
Having suffered from childhood abuse and trauma, she approaches therapist Cameron, who comes from a working-class upbringing and carries his own demons — as we learn as the story unfolds.
First and foremost, it is the characters which make Pourquoi so enticing.
Delphine, 25, is self-aware and astute yet highly anxious and scared. She has already seen a range of therapists so ‘knows their tricks’ and does not wish to sign a therapeutic contract with Cameron as she does not wish to be owned.
At times, her revelations of her past are obscure. Yet at a certain point, trust builds and she reveals the horrors and abuse she has suffered in her earlier life and the impact this is still having on her.
As she says, “Life is worse now, Cameron. Back then, I was in a nightmare and didn’t know it. But now? Now I know it, and that’s so much worse. It’s like … It’s like I’m living in a nightmare within a nightmare now.”
Deeply damaged, with low self-worth, she constantly questions if she is too much for Cameron and if he would like an ‘exit pass’.
Fundamentally, Delphine is terrified that if she reveals more of herself and her dreams, she will repulse Cameron. In fact, however, the opposite happens and he is increasingly drawn to her as they forge a connection.
As he explains, “I understand abuse intellectually… but also from personal experience.”
Cameron desires above all else to help and make Delphine feel safe, so much so that they begin upping their therapy sessions and exploring creative fields to help with their journey.
But Cameron also holds Delphine up to himself as a mirror. As he watches her cry, he thinks how detached he is from himself and his feelings, whereas Delphine is her feelings.
Slowly but surely, each begins to question their true motives for their interactions — and whether the boundaries in their relationship are beginning to loosen and reform into a romance, which, of course, is laden with a host of ethical dilemmas.
Pourquoi is informed by a dazzling array of psychotherapeutic and philosophical themes including free will and choice, connection and trust, avoidance, abandonment, and detachment.
By anchoring these to the protagonists, their actions, and inner thoughts — conveniently and clearly shared with the reader by alternating chapters from each character’s perspective — Jemima ensures that this heady mix of ideas moves from the theoretical to real life.
And with its attention on two individuals haunted in different ways by their pasts and pulled into a painful yet necessary search for truth, Pourquoi explores the complexities of the psyche and human nature.
Also drawing upon French existential literature and the world of art, it’s the sort of novel which not only entertains but enriches, akin to enrolling on separate but mutually rewarding classes in literature and psychology at the same time.
It provides plenty of food for thought from cover to cover, though your main focus along the journey will be on the characters and their evolving situation. What will happen if the connection steps out of the therapy room? Where will they end up? Who will get hurt? And can Cameron finally step out from the shadow of his parental upbringing?
There are so many tensions pulsating within the narrative that you fear it will rip itself apart, and this continual frisson makes for a profound and powerful read that will almost certainly cause a sensation when published, firmly establishing Jemima Atar on the literary map.