I should know Vee pretty well by now. I have known her 16 years. She was not the main character back then when I write the first draft of Vee, but she was a secondary one, a very important secondary one though. The more I rewrite the story, the more I realized the story was really about her and she has been my buddy ever since. Characterisation is not my strong point, though, and I am not sure how much I really know her. If you asked me three things about her I would say: resilient, smart, and volatile. If you asked me what she wanted to become, I would say: hopeful, at peace, and forgiving.
How does she look? When we meet her in the book, she is quite dark skinned. From mediterranean blood. She has long curly blonde hair. She has full cheeks and a round face but is slim. She has big lips and big eyes and little ears which seem too little for her face.
Vee was born in London in 1990. Vee is short for Venus and is not her real name. Her friend Natalie gave it to her. She gave Natalie a name, too, Affie, short for Aphrodite, and the prologue is a scene in which they give each other these names. She was born on a council estate in Pimlico. Her mother, Kathleen, was a housewife and her dad, Kenneth, worked on the tube. When she was seven her dad was killed in a car accident. Her mother did not cope very well and took up with a man she met at the local pub, Nigel. Nigel got her mum hooked on drugs and then began prostituting her out. While all this was going on, Kathleen’s family were trying to intervene, but Kathleen pushed them all away, manipulated by Nigel. Vee went to school where they worried about her, but she tried her best to keep learning and she confided in her friends and spent as much time out of the house as she could, staying with some friends quite frequently. Eventually, she just got used to the way things were, resigned, a little bitter and negative. She had a neighbor called Mary who helped her, providing a bed for her when she needed, making sure she did not get addicted to drugs and when she did, bringing her into her home and weening her off them. Mary had been her mum’s friend and was not going to let Vee waste her life.
Her mum overdosed when Vee was 14 and Nigel then began abusing and prostituing out Venus. He also brought a young girl Natalie, also known as Affie, to the flat who was his lover and who he also pimped out. Affie is madly in love with Nige and will not leave him which creates conflict between the two the day Vee is drawn to paradise.
I wondered about Vee. What does a girl with so much misery in her life do? I think she copes. Vee is a great coper. But I also think Vee is more than that. She did not have too bad a start. She knew love from her parents, Mary loves her, she had an interest in books, in learning, in the world. She would go and hide in the library and read. But of course her environment ground her down. She fell in with a crowd. Took a lot of drugs, drank, sat around brooding, and really, who can blame her? She does have a rough edge to her, but she is not stupid, not at all. Nigel bans her from going to school, moves her away with Natalie, but she still goes to the library, still reads, uses the internet, finds people to have intelligent conversation with, such as Mary. Her and Natalie often read books to each other and discuss them. They have grand plans to escape. they dream of a better world, a simpler, healthy life, though just before Vee finds paradise they start to give up hope when Vee tries to get a job and cannot, when she tries to get her own housing and cannot, when she tries to escape from Nigel and cannot, when she tries to get Affie to run away with her and she will not come.
This is a central part of her conflict. She knows that what is out there in the world may not be worth escaping for, that she may just go back and try to rescue Affie but for no purpose. But does she want to be stuck with another Nige in the garden? It is at her greatest moment of conflict that Vee decides to be strong and to see what happens the next day, and that is when Mihail comes her way.
So how does Vee develop and change in the story? When she finds herself in paradise and finds that Leb is trying to abuse her like Nige did, she has had enough and she has stands up for herself and says that deserves more. She says she is not going to be controlled by him like she has been by Nige. That goes on over a few intense days and on the last day when she stands up to him and says she deserves love, she meets Mikhail and she can see that she is worthy of love from a good man, that what she has asked for from the universe has finally come her way. She has hope of peace. She also sees this when she is given a home by Dr. Richard. She softens. She realises she cannot save Affie, but she can save her from Nigel. Understanding that she is going to die soon, she decides to forgive Nige, but she also resolves to disable him, a compromise she makes after a philosphical conversation she has with the Dr and with Michael about how she can help Affie.
We like Vee because she wants more for her life, she is kind hearted and generous despite what has happened to her, she knows love and can give it and receive it and deserves it. We want her to embrace the fleeting chance of happiness fate brings her.
What does Vee learn from all this? She finds happiness, but then is doomed to die. She already knows life is unfair. She has already learned to make the best of it in her moments of happiness with Affie. She learns that happiness is a gift, it does not come to everyone, but when it comes to you, you have to grab it and revel in it, and give happiness to others, or at least the chance for them to grab it themselves, the chance she gives to Affie.