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Review of The Chain by Chimene Suleyman

If you read one book this month, this year, let it be this one. Strap in and join the chain. This is a debut memoir that had me gripped and gasping aloud. Chimene Suleyman tells the unbelievably shocking account of her, and many other women’s, experience with an unnamed narcissistic psychopath. This is a man that abandons her in an abortion clinic, lies to her about the death of his mother amongst many other things and then publicly mocks her in his ‘comedy’ shows.

Upon finding an Instagram post about him by another woman, she soon discovers she is not the only one to have experienced this with him. In fact, there are hundreds of other women across New York and around the world who he has abused. The false narrative about his mother’s cancer and death is one that comes up often but there are a slew of other lies that he has spun to an incredible length. He has also been using his thinly veiled comedy to brag about raping women and his penchant for impregnating people and forcing them to get abortions (sometimes even putting Plan B in their food without their knowledge). He has also defrauded these women out of an obscene amount of money as they paid for make-believe mental health facilities, his travel to invented job opportunities and even Ubers to (unbeknownst to them at the time, of course) each other’s houses. He stole items from their homes and gifted them to other women, gained enough trust to be given a spare key only to invite his other dates back to their houses when they weren’t home. The audacity of his behaviour, the outlandishness of his lies and his pure callousness is truly incomprehensible but it is exactly this outrageousness that enables him to thrive, for when these women doubt him they are made to feel ludicrous, after all, what kind of person questions, to take one example, the death of someone’s mother? And so, instead, they turn in on themselves, doubting their own minds instead of his. 

What is even more troubling is his use of mental ill health and neurodivergency as a tool and excuse. Chimene and the other women describe a method akin to love bombing in which this man would introduce various mental health afflictions inappropriately early on in their dating. To paraphrase the author, this man appropriated autism and agoraphobia amongst other things as an alibi for his scams. He spun webs of a traumatic past and deep mental struggles as a way to manipulate empathetic women who did not want to be insensitive or discriminatory. All the while, what these red flags really pointed to was psychopathy and, in this way, he hid in plain sight. 

But, as the title suggests, at the heart of this memoir is a story of women supporting women. The chain of those affected by this man is long but it is resilient. By connecting with each other and now sharing their stories, they reclaim their power and diminish his. It is a classic #MeToo story that left me in awe of Chimene and the women she’s giving a voice to here. Crucially, she has framed this book as not only being a vessel of change for them and their story but for any woman who has been painfully betrayed or felt stuck in a relationship where she can’t quite identify the source of her unease. This felt like an important read and one I was honoured to review. This is a memoir that will be sticking with me for quite some time, I’m sure.

Reviewed by Abi.

The Chain will be published on 28/03/24 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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