The things we left unsaid

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

At sixteen, Alice, a gifted and highly sensitive teenager in her final year of school, has it all: perfect parents, loyal friends and big plans to attend university. She would never have imagined that in a week everything could vanish. After a party where things go horribly wrong, Alice has a dark secret, one she longs to tell her mother, Penelope, with whom she shares a close bond. But when Penelope is killed in a head-on collision on route to an unknown destination, Alice is bereft of both confidante and guardian.In the chaotic days following her mother's death, Alice discovers she was having an online affair. She fears that her mother's deception renders their whole life together a lie. As she delves into this mystery, she becomes obsessed with the secret life of Penelope and is torn between her pursuit of the lover's identity and an instinct to abandon the search. She is simultaneously embroiled in a series of scandals at school. Disillusioned, Alice risks everything to uncover a truth which she believes will miraculously solve her crisis. Her best friend, Theresa, is the constant voice of reason which Alice wilfully ignores. When she finally tracks her mother's lover to his home, her neat judgements disintegrate as they encounter a complex reality. The idea of Penelope as a sexual and emotional being, not simply a one-sided symbol of maternal care that sacrifices herself to the needs of her family, is, for Alice, deeply disturbing but ultimately redemptive. In this coming-of-age story, as Alice begins to relinquish her judgement of others, she is able to forgive herself for her own failings and accept ambiguity as part of life. It is her decision to move beyond prescribed roles as well as to identify and fulfil her own needs that constitutes her essential development into maturity. It is a story for young adults that acknowledges that childhood is the springboard from which we launch ourselves into the world, that the things we learn in adolescence and the ways in which we cope with adversity during that time determine to a large extent the adults we will become and that those youthful choices reverberate throughout our lives.

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