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Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson review – fragments of a terrorised mind | Books

Journalist Rebecca Watson’s debut novel Little Scratch takes us through the day of an unnamed young woman working as an assistant in a newsroom who is grappling with the aftermath of sexual violence, a journey told through a dizzying stream of consciousness.

The form freewheels across the page as largely disordered and unpunctuated fragments of text recording all the banal and profound reflections of a day. Life’s constant barrage of interruptions – catcalls, toilet-door posters, WhatsApp messages, dialogue and overheard conversations – are detailed minutely and seamlessly alongside the protagonist’s own thoughts. While sometimes confusing – how best to read this anarchic word jungle? – it also transports us with immediacy into her disordered state of mind. Simultaneously, she attempts to repress the violence she has suffered, to accept lowly isolation in an open-plan office while nursing her own writing ambitions and to support her boyfriend (“my him”) without appearing clingy.

We know she has suffered something traumatic (the title derived from her perpetual scratching, as though wanting to purge herself), but the precise nature of the situation materialises gradually. In the same way as she records her boss’s receipts amid a sea of admin, she feels her body being itemised by men, but longs to be noticed for the right reasons. With clear-eyed precision and pathos, Little Scratch recalls the darkest elements of the #MeToo conversation, the trauma at its heart graphically but poetically recalled with all the brutalism from which the victim is still reeling.

Undercutting the darkness are glimpses of wry, well-observed humour enhanced by the visual wordplay: the confused negotiation of an office tea-round, an insufferable poetry reading and the dark pleasure of reading a disgruntled Tripadvisor review.

At just over 200 pages, it’s a bullet of a novel, ricocheting between grief, anger and hope. While its unflinching account of brutality can be difficult to stomach, Watson’s distinctive voice left me rooting for the office worker long after the last page.

Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson is published by Faber (£12.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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