Sunday 22 November 2009

Strange titles

Rape a love story by Joyce Carol Oates
It seems somehow wrong to put the words 'rape' and 'love' together in a book title. It is almost as if doing so undermines the horror with which which rape should be viewed. It is a testament to Joyce Carol Oates that she can do this, and when you read the book you know why.
This is a short novel. I started it before dinner and sat reading until the middle of the night because I did not want to put it down. In common with other stories that concern rape it is really about the aftermath, and the long term impact that it has on all parties.
The opening description of the rape itself is shocking and frightening. The violence leaves physical damage, but it is the fear that ensues that leaves the real lasting mark. I think maybe that Joyce was not sure which line to pursue. You get the court room scene where the defense lawyer turns the case on it's head by claiming that the drunken and scantily clad victim had agreed to 'sex for money' and the suspects were not guilty and had played no part in the beating that nearly killed her. The whole 'she was asking for it' defense that causes so much anger then becomes more of a subplot to the daughter's experiences.
The book is mostly written as if the author were talking quietly, almost confidentially, to the daughter and it is her experience and her relationship with Drumoor (the policeman) that dominates much of the story. Maybe 'relationship' is the wrong word. He is the first person on the scene when Bethie crawls from her hiding place and goes for help, and they are somehow bound together by the shared events of that night. He sends flowers to the hospital and then she sees him again in court. It is not until she observes him from her bedroom window bringing her mother home one night that she realises who he is and his promise of help 'any hour of the day or night' comes to be accepted at face value. As hers and her mother's lives become swamped by the fear they cannot escape it is Drumoor who knows what needs to be done, and has the means to follow through. They don't exchange a word and he does not need any acknowledgement for his help. In fact everything that happens is merely implied, the reader is left to assume that it is his actions that save them.
You also get brief insights into the thoughts of the perpetrators, seeing their reaction to the consequences of their actions. Their continued justification of their actions and lack of remorse is evident. You do come to feel a modicum of pity as they start to fully grasp these consequences, their friends avoid them and girls don't want to have anything to do with them, but the pity is never going to move in the direction of forgiveness.
But it is not a book about a man saving a woman. It is about rape taking away power from the victim and how it takes a person who really understands to help them regain control of life. It is also a commentary on the fact that the justice system still lets down rape victims, still blames rape victim for the crime, and that the victim must seek some resolution to their fear by other means.
I was disconcerted by the fact that the main character is called Martine. I don't see my own name in print very often and it made me feel more intimately connected with the story. I guess people with more common names don't necessarily experience this, but I often feel very proprietorial about my name.


  1. What a fascinating book, the title really jared, it is not a connection you expect to see; rape and love, but it sounds really good, without reading a review a wonder how many people will be put off because of the title? I will keep an eye out for this one, great review.

  2. Heavy! Its not the sort of thing a man would probably pick up, a pity in a way.

  3. Hi Martine,
    I was astonished to be told some years ago that my name was that of the central character in 'Chocolat'. So it was, though spelt differently of course, without the 'e' after the 'i'.
    Bart and I had your ma and pa over for her birthday last night, lovely to see them looking so bonny. Betty had on the beautiful scarf you made, and an alpaca cardigan from Peru.
    All the, I'm reading Trollope, who remains delightfully modern.

  4. Isn't this one you listed for the Women Unbound reading challenge? It seems like a perfect fit for it.


Thanks for stopping by. Thoughts, opinions and suggestions (reading or otherwise) always most welcome.