Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.
This is the now iconic line from the 1986 novel by Josephine Hart. It was made famous in the film directed by Louis Malle, starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. I have heard it classed as passionate and romantic. I have never thought so. I would not like to know the people in real life but this of course makes for a page turner. The story is narrated in first person by a male, Tory politician. He has no name, he is just the father. He tells us what happens, simply and elegantly. But the real star of the show is the character Anna Barton who is one of the most compelling third culture characters in literature. This is how she describes her life, when pressed.
“Do you have to ask? Oh well, it’s simple. My mother’s name is Elizabeth Hunter. She is the second wife of Wilbur Hunter, the writer. She lives happily with Wilbur on the West Cost of America. I haven’t see her for two years. This causes me no pain, nor, I believe does it distress her. We write occasionally. I phone at Christmas, Easter and birthdays. My father was a diplomat. I travelled a great deal as a child. I went to school in Sussex, spent my holidays anywhere and everywhere. I was not upset when my parents divorced.”
I think you can see all the red flags waving. In the film, she reveals this at a restaurant when she meets the family of her lover Martyn. It is the first chance for everyone to get to know one another. The suspicious mother, who grew up in the opposite way, pounces on this as justification for what is off about Anna. Martyn, rejecting his background for its coldness and sameness, mistakes it for mystique and exoticism.
Anna is rootless. This is why she starts an affair with Martyn’s father who is rooted. They ‘recognise’ each other in the beginning of the novel. And they use one another to cancel out the neglect in their childhoods.
“I simply can’t see past you.”
This the father admits to Anna, to which she responds, always unsparing.
“You know, I think you’ve never seen very much at all. Ever.”
Parallel lives, Finished ones, unfinished ones, compartmentalized ones, secret ones. Anna has lived them, is living them. From Egypt to Argentina to Paris which is her ‘favourite’ city. And finally to London where the book is set. The book Third Culture Kids; Growing Up Among Worlds explains what she is carrying in the chapter Why High Mobility Matters.
Though third culture kids have a wealth of tangible and intangible realities that give their lives meaning, many of the worlds they have known are far away. Therefore, what they loved and lost in each transition remains invisible to others and often unnamed by themselves.
Is there something unnamed in your life? Best if you name it. Anna finally does but I won’t include any spoilers. The last line in Damage is I wish them well. And the last place the reader finds Anna is in an airport which seems a fitting place to catch that final glimpse of her. That no man’s land of coming and goings, of hellos and goodbyes, of arriving and departing. Paradoxically, she seemed to finally not be restless and she knew where she was going. I indeed wished her well.
Have you encountered TCK characters that resonated? Other favourites of mine include the little boy in Empire of the Sun by J.G Ballard and the daughters in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Though I think a defining work of fiction about one is yet to be written.