Pushkin Vertigo Spotlight: The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
Posted 8th July 2021
Maxine Mei-Fung Chung is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and author of gritty and confounding The Eighth Girl. As part of our Pushkin Vertigo Spotlight Week, we sat down with Maxine and asked her a few questions about what this book and its leading lady mean to her.
Alexa is such an inspiring protagonist – tell us how you came to write her character:
Alexa Wú is a complex heroine and I like that you think she’s inspiring, thank you. I came to write her as a result of previous misrepresentation and pathologising of personality disorders in the culture. Having previously worked with patients living with Disassociate Identity Disorder (DID) I didn’t feel there was enough inquiry, compassion and truth spoken regarding the diagnosis. I set out to write The Eighth Girl with the hope to tell a story that would not only demystify the disorder but would challenge previous lunatic tropes frequently associated with DID. I wanted to humanize the condition rather than to fetishize it.
While having survived trauma, Alexa finds beauty in nature and small acts of human kindness which she records with her camera. She is also someone who others underestimate, and an advocate for the greater good. At the heart of Alexa is a longing for connection, a need to be understood.
I think most people at some point in their life – whether because of a change of circumstances, loss, conflict, feelings of isolation or a lack of guidance in early years – have felt confused about who they are. While The Eighth Girl is an examination of the fracturing weights young women are forced to carry, it also asks why we make the choices that we do, and what is needed in terms of character when in search of the greater good. It’s also a book that champions someone who is living with mental illness, rather than leaning on tired, stigmatised tropes.
You have spoken before about how important it is to dispel myths around dissociative identity disorder. Have you found since publication this aspect has resonated with readers?
Yes, particularly those who are living with dissociative identity disorder. I’ve received some beautiful letters and emails from people saying how seen they felt in reading The Eighth Girl, and how much they related to Alexa’s story. Some people have written me to say the experience of feeling advocated for as opposed to pathologised was helpful, too. I think we still have a very long way to go with regard to opening up further conversations regarding mental health and illness. Perhaps The Eighth Girl has been a springboard for me as writer and psychotherapist, an opportunity to think about future conversations and how I might organise what I am learning into effective social change.
If readers were to take just one thing away from reading The Eighth Girl, what would you like it to be?
Speak your truth.
Why was it important for you to include the psychiatrist character Daniel, and how did you find writing his relationship with Alexa?
It was important to write Daniel’s perspective because although he is someone who struggles with boundaries and ethical practice, he shows us that at the heart of his story he is, for better or worse and all the in-betweens, a wounded healer. I wanted to offer the reader a view from both sides of the clinical room so they had the experience from the patient and the psychiatrist.
Tell us what you are currently reading:
The Undercommons by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.
It’s a phenomenal book that examines and invites us, the reader, to realise social life otherwise. I’m blown away by its critique and its draw on theory and practice of the black radical tradition as it supports, inspires and challenges political thought. Pure brilliance.
The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung is out now. This Q&A is part of the Pushkin Vertigo Spotlight Week, where we are focusing in on six of our outstanding crime writers – find out more about it here.