The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for having an over-domineering friend


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Having an over-domineering friend

Cure: Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray

Strong personalities are often attractive; but they can also be demoralising, imposing their will on others along with their energy. These vampiric sorts will latch on to you when you're at your weakest, offering advice, friendship or support when you most need it, then not letting go. Take heed of the experience of young Dieter in Tiffany Murray's new novel, Sugar Hall, and learn to spot over-domineering personalities before it's too late.

Dieter is the heir to a crumbling mansion, built on the ill-gotten fortune of Caribbean sugar plantations run on slave labour. When he and his sister Saskia are uprooted from their happy urban existence, 11-year-old Dieter is horrified by his surprise inheritance. In London, he was the leader of the Wee Hoo gang, and his days were spent in unfettered play in "the Wasteland" around their flat. Here, in his vast, gloomy and overgrown dominion, he has no friends at all. Until, that is, he meets a boy wearing nothing but a silver collar, who seems to want to play, but doesn't speak.

At first the slave boy, as we discover him to be, seems benign, and we are happy for Dieter that he has found a playmate. But then his mother notices strange cuts on her son's fingers, along with a peculiar passivity and listlessness. The slave boy begins to dominate the lonely Dieter, sitting on his chest at night, then luring him out to play in the woods at all hours, until Dieter is almost comatose with lack of sleep. It seems that the mysterious boy, whose counterpart looks out from a painting above the fireplace, is draining Dieter's very life-force.

The unforgettable conclusion of this haunting novel will shock you into a state of vigilance. If you notice any tell-tale signs that an emotional vampire is taking liberties with you or someone you know, do what Dieter's mother fails to do. Intervene, then focus on friends who are after your company, and not your blood.