‘It’s hard to find people you can talk to about this kind of stuff’’

She is being consulted in her professional capacity but his words resonate at a personal level as well. Holly Ladall is a therapist and mother of a young son. She is also increasingly unsettled by a combination of things, from aspects of her family history to the unfolding of national and global events. Needy client, fully integrated therapist. Who believed that anymore? She knows the importance of examining her own responses. But it is also easy to deflect from the questions they raise. And as much as she is trying not to, maybe that is what she has started to do.

In this confronting novel, diverse contexts collide. While believing she can handle the escalating pressure, Holly finds herself struggling in unforeseen ways. Can she assist Grant and Aaron, two clients who pose stark and contrasting challenges? Is Sophie, her friend and employee, trapped in a traumatic re-enactment? Are there senses in which she herself might be? Which is worse – not to know yourself, or to be revealed in all your complexity? Against the wider terrain of 9/11 and polarised responses to ‘the refugee crisis’, personal dynamics intersect with dilemmas of abuse, sadomasochistic sex and social justice – to startling effect.


On the brink of (sex, politics, and) psychotherapy


With the publication of Pam Stavropoulos’ “Slow Provocation”, the third and likely most provocative novel of an impressive trilogy published with (see “The Bronze Cast” and “Wall of Fire”) the author fits together pieces in a psycho-somatic jig-saw puzzle where the stakes are high for those of us teetering on the brink of a genuine psycho-therapeutic (healing-of-the-mind) interaction. In all three novels, the author maintains her special focus on what is truly at stake –– for client and therapist respectively –– in a genuinely empathetic ‘client-therapist interaction’. But in “Slow Provocation”, Holly Ladall is a practising psychotherapist who will boldly go where others fear to tread in both her professional and personal life.


Which brings us to the heady mix of sex and psychotherapy and how, in Slow Provocation”, this compelling combination has a mind-blowing role to play. At issue is a potent mix of psycho-sexual desire, guilt, and trepidation, yet potential healing-of-the-mind in exploration of traumatic re-enactment both inside and outside the clinical setting. The synopsis only hints at why this title might turn out to be a “confronting novel” where “diverse contexts collide” and “Holly finds herself struggling in unforeseen ways” with the escalating pressure in both settings “to startling effect”. It does not dwell on the distress of conscience she will associate with her most private willingness to engage sadomasochistic sex (therapy?) as self-exploration, potential source of political and clinical insight, as well as a form of stress relief and escape.


In her profession the stakes are high indeed, and as a practising psychotherapist, Holly is behoven to tackle the issues raised head-on and at their source. Which she does with the same commitment and dedication to diligent self-appraisal that Pam Stavropoulos also demands of her therapist-protagonists in “The Bronze Cast” and “Wall of Fire” respectively. In “Slow Provocation”, especially, we learn to hone and home in on what it is like to teeter on the brink of a genuine healing-of-the-mind-body interaction through, of all things, sex, politics, and psychotherapy!

— Marnie Hanlon, BA(Hons), PhD, 21 December 2020