RSS

Monthly Archives: May 2014

Vindication!

Read it and weep.

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2014/05/06/concern-for-equality-linked-to-logic-not-emotion/

Not that I mean to imply there’s anything wrong with emotionally-driven objections to harmful things. But those emotions are generally a response to facts; I don’t see any reason logic and emotion should be viewed as inherently antonymous.

This is for the people who like to argue that they are and in so doing dismiss any objection they do not like as emotional, therefore irrational. That objection is simply wrong, so go fuck yourselves.

(h/t to Stephanie Zvan)

Advertisements
 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 12, 2014 in mitchell

 

Tags: , ,

Public Service Announcement

Let’s discuss a hypothetical scenario. Party A and Party B are college students in a long-term, long-distance relationship (they attend different universities at a significant distance from each other; the distance is sufficient that visiting is inconvenient at best). Let’s also establish that when this relationship began, they knew it would be long-distance for the indeterminate future.

Let’s also establish that both parties are happy at their respective universities and wish to complete their educations where they currently are.

Which is the correct action for party B to take?

1) Accept the situation and learn to deal with being lonely sometimes

2) Accept the situation and leave the relationship

3) Accept the situation and start a conversation about renegotiating exclusivity

4) Constantly pressure party A to transfer universities and sacrifice their education, despite the fact they’ve made perfectly clear they’ve no desire to

Let me suggest that if you choose option 4 in this scenario, you’re a terrible person and shouldn’t have relationships with human beings.

Respect people’s choices, especially those of people you claim to love.

This has been a public service announcement.


In case it was not already blatantly obvious, this post was written in response to some real-life events involving persons known to me. In point of fact I wrote the above more than a week ago and was waiting to post it until I had more information, and the situation has changed since then; they have apparently come to some kind of reconciliation and are back together.

My original intent in writing this was to express support and sympathy for party A while validating her decision. And while I do think my point stands, far be it from me to audit her choices and tell her she made the wrong one now.

So this is what I’ll say: If he’s what you want and he makes you happy, so be it. That does not, however, mean I must refrain from calling out his bad behaviour; I mean it when I say this is not OK, and he had better have learnt his lesson from this and treat you better in future. You deserve to be treated with respect; everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

If you ever need somebody to talk to, you can call on me anytime; I’ll always be here.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 11, 2014 in mitchell

 

Tags: , , ,

(Homecoming) The Memory of Earth: Chapter 1, part 1

[Content Notes: gender essentialism, toxic masculinity, rape culture, sexual abuse of minors, ableist language, voyeurism]

Chapter 1 is entitled “Father’s House”.

Or, as I would title it: In which we meet our protagonist and his brothers, and are beaten about the head with essentialist gender norms.

Let’s start by quoting the first paragraph, because if I had to read it so do you.

“Nafai woke before dawn on his mat in his father’s house. He wasn’t allowed to sleep in his mother’s house anymore, being fourteen years old. No self-respecting woman of Basilica would put her daughter in Rasa’s household if a fourteen-year-old boy were in residence – especially since Nafai had started a growth spurt at the age of twelve that showed no signs of stopping even though he was already near two meters in height.” (page 9)

Yes, that’s where we begin – Meet Nafai! Meet Rape Culture! How do you do? I’m seriously at a loss for anything to say about this; apparently rape culture is so deeply embedded in this society that having boys and girls living under the same roof is utterly unthinkable. (Truthfully, this idea is alive and well in modern times also; you can see the most extreme manifestation of it in purity culture, e.g. Christian Patriarchy and radical Islam, but even outside those extremes the general idea that teenage boys cannot control their sexuality and girls must be kept away from them is a mainstay of popular culture. But you would think that FORTY MILLION YEARS IN THE FUCKING FUTURE we would know better.)

Let’s take a look at what Card has done here. The very first things we learn are our protagonist’s name – Nafai (and do note the similarity to Nephi, a significant character in the Book of Mormon, though I don’t know enough about the BOM to fully evaluate how close this parallel is; nonetheless, it’s worth pointing out) – and that the culture in which our characters live is deeply gendered and deeply essentialist. We may also note that, seeing how this is literally what he opens the book with, Card intends to be addressing gender in a significant way in this book.

Now, because this chapter is from Nafai’s perspective I could be charitable and assume this is only meant to represent Nafai’s understanding of Basilican cultural attitudes rather than being a statement by Card about the real world. Let’s keep reading and see how long that holds up.

Immediately after this paragraph, Nafai flashes back to a conversation he overheard between his mother Rasa and her friend Dhelembuvex, about the subject of getting him an “auntie”. Rasa thinks he’s too young and there’s no reason to do it until Nafai himself expresses any interest; her friend thinks that ‘people are beginning to wonder’ why he hasn’t got one already and that he wouldn’t mention that interest to his mother. Seriously:

” ‘There’s time enough for aunties and mates and all that business when he starts thinking about it himself.’ [said Rasa]

‘Oh, he’s thinking about it already,’ said Dhel. ‘He’s just not talking to you about it.’ ” (page 9)

In case you haven’t picked up on this yet (OMG IT’S SO SUBTLE), an “auntie” is an older woman to whom a young man is assigned for purposes of sexual edification, which is apparently a formalised and standardised practice in this society (which is strange even before you consider they use a familial term to refer to these sex tutors; ick). And apparently fourteen is old enough that people are wondering why he hasn’t got one already? I really think there’s only one thing to say to Card here; Officer Pear, do the honours:

Nafai’s reaction to this is to blush in embarrassment, but he thinks to himself that she’s totally right and all boys think about sex constantly (he wonders for a moment how he managed to give this away to Dhelembuvex, before realising he didn’t, she just “knows men”). Gender-essentialism ho! (also this is a myth) Once again, this is kind of reasonable given Nafai grew up in this heavily essentialist society, but I don’t necessarily get the impression Card himself makes that distinction. On the other hand, I do think we’re supposed to read Nafai as being a bit naive here, as we’ll see in the next few paragraphs, so it’s not necessarily true that the character’s views are Card’s own.

This excerpt, though, you have to see to believe:

“But I’m not like all the others, thought Nafai. I hear Mebbekew and his friends talking, and it makes me sick. I don’t like thinking of women that crudely, sizing them up like mares to see what they’re likely to be useful for. A pack animal or can I ride her? Is she a walker or can we gallop? Do I keep her in the stable or bring her out to show my friends?

“That wasn’t the way Nafai thought about women at all. Maybe because he was still in school, still talking to women every day about intellectual subjects. I’m not in love with Eiadh because she’s the most beautiful young woman in Basilica and therefore quite probably in the entire world. I’m in love with her because we can talk together, because of the way she thinks, the sound of her voice, the way she cocks her head to listen to an idea she doesn’t agree with, the way she rests her hand on mine when she’s trying to persuade me.”

Where to begin with this? Oy vey. Again I’m not sure how seriously we’re supposed to take this, because this is filtered through Nafai’s perspective and the second paragraph is clearly hyperbole and meant to read like an overdramatic teenage crush. What I would like to note is that I think Nafai’s protesting a bit too much here; as far as I know all the metaphors in the first paragraph comparing women to horses were Nafai’s own, never mind the fact he thinks that isn’t the way he thinks about women. Of course these could have been inspired by quotes from Mebbekew (one of Nafai’s older half-brothers; this is the first we learn of him), but I don’t think it reads that way. I think it reads like Nafai coming up with the horse comparison and, feeling a bit proud of the idea, seeing how far he can take it (while putting the blame on Mebbekew so as not to feel badly about it). This actually might be a decent portrayal of cognitive dissonance, though again I don’t think it’s meant that way, as we’ll see once we meet Mebbekew later.

Let us also note that Nafai is slut-shaming his brother. Card, when we say we want equality, that doesn’t mean to take all of the ways society mistreats women and do them to men too! What is this, the gender version of ‘Harrison Bergeron’?

And for the second paragraph – as I said before, I think it’s supposed to read like a teenage crush, or like limerence (they’re very closely related), and I don’t think it’s too unrealistic a portrayal of that kind of melodramatic thinking. It’s also a very good example of Nice Guy thought processes, putting the woman on a pedestal without really understanding or even thinking of her as a human being. Once again I think Nafai is protesting too much here, and objectifying Eiadh for her intelligence at the same time as he’s using his appreciation of her intelligence to reassure himself that he isn’t one of those Horrible Objectifying Sexual Horndog Guys like his brother (“I’m so special because I don’t want sex with her but I totally want sex with her and think about it all the time!”). For better or worse, this is a thought process I recognise and I actually think Card’s represented it pretty well here.

That said, I really don’t think I’m going to like Nafai very much.

Nafai actually shows a bit of sense here; he realises that it doesn’t make sense to lie abed daydreaming about Eiadh when he could be going to see her instead, and gets out of bed to begin his morning ablutions. Then we get this:

“He sat up, knelt beside his mat, slapped his bare thighs and chest and offered the pain to the Oversoul, then rolled up his bed and put it in his box in the corner. I don’t really need a bed, thought Nafai. If I were a real man I could sleep on the floor and not mind it. That’s how I’ll become as hard and lean as Father. As Elemak. I won’t use the bed tonight.” (page 10)

There are a few things to comment on here. We are clearly in major toxic masculinity territory here – men in this society worship by self-flagellation, and Nafai is berating himself for daring to sleep on a mat instead of the bare ground because it makes him seem less tough. Just wait; it’s going to get worse – we’re going to meet Elemak shortly. And speaking of Elemak, he’s Nafai’s eldest half-brother and Volemak’s (their father’s) eldest son. Do note also the similarities between the names Elemak and Laman (another Book of Mormon reference). The reason I point that out is because the series isn’t remotely subtle about this (a few books down the line we will have these two brothers leading feuding factions named after them, so keep in mind the parallel to Nephites and Lamanites in the BOM). I’m not sure about other parallels but those two are absolutely impossible to miss.

As an aside, I will admit I do like how Card’s introduced the reader to Nafai’s brothers by having him think about them offhand before we meet them; it’s a very good way of establishing that he has brothers, and that they loom large in his life. It’s natural for people to think about their family members, and while this might be a bit heavy-handed (Nafai looks down on Mebbekew for his womanising, and admires Elemak for his toughness, and the first time he thinks about either subject he immediately name-drops a brother mentally) I think it works. See, if I drop in the occasional compliment like this it shows I’m not just looking for things to hate!

What follows this bit is a rather strange scene; it’s not particularly badly written, but strange is about the only way I can describe it.

We learn that the “shower” (which bears little resemblance to what most modern people would take that word to mean) is apparently in a courtyard, onto which multiple of the brothers’ bedrooms open directly. There is no mention of Nafai removing his clothes, so I have to presume he sleeps naked (I often wonder whether Card has a fetish; he spent a lot of time in Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow lovingly describing how the boys at Battle School slept naked and often ran through the hallways naked, etc etc); there is then a description of how this shower works. He goes to a “water tank”, where he soaps his entire body, then has to pull a cord at which point a deluge of “ice-cold” water will be dumped on him for about thirty seconds. Nafai hesitates pulling the cord, and his brother Issib “floats” out of his room and mocks Nafai over it.

This serves as our introduction to the last brother, Issib (who is Nafai’s full brother and Rasa’s oldest child; he’s the closest brother in age to Nafai). Issib has a physical disability (the narration, and Nafai, both call him “a cripple”; ugh), which is left ambiguous at this point (I can’t remember if it’s elaborated on later). He requires the aid of devices called “floats” to move, which apparently allow him to hover.

Anyway, witty banter ensues (or at least I assume it’s meant to be read as such; I honestly think it comes off as a bit mean-spirited). Issib mocks Nafai over his hesitation, Nafai responds by bringing up Issib’s disability (apparently, the floats cannot get wet, so Issib is given sponge baths instead of using this system), and it goes on from there.

Nafai eventually pulls the cord, and proceeds to scramble to make sure the water gets all the soap off him before time runs out (if he fails, apparently he will either have to wait some time for the tank to refill so he can repeat this process, or let the remaining soap dry on him and become itchy). WHO DESIGNED THIS SHOWER SYSTEM? Anyway, he apparently has a routine way of doing this, which Issib mocks (“I love watching that dance you do” – THIS IS CREEPY, CARD) and then describes in graphic detail, to Nafai’s embarrassment. Then he suggests recording it for wider consumption, and when Nafai protests that theatres wouldn’t want to show that kind of material, says “You’d still be a hit in Dolltown!” (presumably the Basilican equivalent of a red-light district, though that’s only implied). Is it just me, or is this all disturbingly incestuous? What kind of brothers talk to each other like this? What kind of brothers routinely watch each other shower?

Aaaaanyway…

We go from this shower-related creepiness into more shower-related creepiness! You see, Nafai thinks that the way a person returns to their room after showering is an essential part of performing masculinity. Don’t believe me? Here you go:

“By now Nafai had toweled himself dry – except his hair, which was still freezing cold. He wanted to run for his room the way he used to do when he was little, jabbering nonsense words – ‘ooga-booga looga-booga’ had been a favorite – while he pulled on his clothes and rubbed himself to get warm. But he was a man now, and it was only autumn, not winter yet, so he forced himself to walk casually toward his room. Which is why he was still in the courtyard, stark naked and cold as ice, when Elemak strode through the gate.” (pages 11-12)

This kid is obsessed with performing masculinity; he basically thinks about nothing else. Then again, I think Card is too; quite a lot of this series has to do with an idea that there is a right and wrong way to perform masculinity, and that this is tied up with a man’s inherent moral worth. I’ll be talking about that more in a bit, but in the meantime, it’s time to meet Elemak.

Elemak walks in, proclaims that he’s been gone for 128 days, and immediately begins stripping and walking toward the shower. While doing so, he talks nonchalantly about how he thinks he killed a man on the expedition he’s just returned from – he was escorting a caravan to purchase rare plants from some exotic locale or other (we’ll soon learn this is the family business, selling rare plants) and they were ambushed by robbers, so Elemak fired a hunting weapon called a ‘pulse’ and saw one of them go down. Nafai is appalled that Elemak would use a hunting weapon against a person while Elemak thinks nothing of it.

In an obviously deliberate parallel to the bit I just quoted, we now get this (if I have to read this, so do you):

“Elemak pulled the shower cord before he soaped. The moment the water hit him he yowled, and then did his own little splash dance, shaking his head and flipping water all over the courtyard while jabbering ‘ooga-booga looga-booga’ just like a little kid.

“It was all right for Elemak to act that way. He was twenty-four now, he had just got his caravan safely back […] and he might actually have killed a robber on the way. No one could think of Elemak as anything other than a man. Nafai knew the rules. When a man acts like a child, he’s boyish, and everyone’s delighted; when a boy acts the same way, he’s childish, and everyone tells him to be a man.” (page 12)

Bullshit.

Let’s keep in mind, here, that the context of this statement is two or three boys standing around naked (it isn’t mentioned whether or not Issib is clothed) judging each other for how they shower. I can sort of see what Card’s trying to do, in using an everyday situation to establish character, but this really doesn’t work; it comes across as pretty forced to me, not to mention that once again I’m boggling at Card’s weird propensity to write about naked boys.

There’s this weird tone of simultaneous awe and revulsion from Nafai toward Elemak, and this will continue throughout the story. I think this mirrors how the book wants us to look at masculinity – a virtue to aspire to, except when it’s taken too far (though at this point I don’t think it’s saying Elemak has done so, and the line of ‘too far’ is deliberately hazy). It’s a pretty good expression of how toxic masculinity works, actually, except these books hold that up as an aspirational ideal rather than being sensible and saying to hell with the whole rotten system.

So let’s have a brief digression and talk about Aristotle. No, I’m not joking; let’s talk about Aristotle. The Aristotle who believed men and women had different numbers of teeth because he couldn’t be bothered to talk to a woman and check? Yes, that Aristotle. Bear with me here, I swear it will be relevant.

In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle defines virtue in a very interesting way. To Aristotle, virtues exist on a spectrum, and what we call a virtue is in actuality the balance between two competing and opposite vices. The characteristic example he gives is ‘courage’, which he defines as the ideal point between the extremes of cowardice and rashness. There are a few other examples in the text also, but I think that’s the best one to illustrate the idea. (For the record, I don’t necessarily agree with the Aristotelian definition of virtue, I just think it’s an interesting framework, and that it could be useful here to understand how people like Card think about gender expression.)

I think Card and his fellow gender-essentialists view gender expression in an Aristotelian way. What I’m not yet sure about – and one of the things I hope to uncover as we go through this book – is what sort of spectrum Card advocates. It’s clear from the text that this ideal of masculinity exists on a spectrum from insufficiently masculine on the one hand and hypermasculine on the other, with the ideal somewhere in between; we have yet to see where femininity would fit on this spectrum (e.g. whether femininity would be part of the same spectrum as an extreme beyond insufficient masculinity, or whether it’s a different spectrum entirely; that said, I don’t think everyone who advocates this kind of view of gender agrees on that, either).

Anyway, it’s already clear to me that in this paradigm the ‘proper’ or ‘virtuous’ type of masculinity is a tightrope balance between insufficiency and extreme (so far we’ve seen this with respect to both stoicism and brutality, I’m sure we’ll see more also).

In any case, let’s keep Aristotle in mind as we read Card; I think this will prove useful later also. End of digression, back to the story.

Let’s do a brief thought-experiment here. Let’s take Nafai at his word that people admire childish behaviour in men who have previously established their manhood sufficiently to get away with it. Is THIS really a good example to use to establish the principle? (Maybe shouting and making a spectacle and throwing water all over the place to create a mess someone else might have to clean up is a good example of the kind of inconsiderate behaviour toxic masculinity leads to, but I don’t think that’s the interpretation Card intended at all.)

(Aside: if the gender essentialists were right, performing gender wouldn’t be so much fucking work; that’s what it means for something to be an inherent characteristic. The fact that Card writes Nafai as so preoccupied by this and constantly working at it actually works against the point he’s trying to make.)

Also, this scene won’t bloody end, and we’re just about halfway through the chapter. Fuck me. Why did I decide to do this again?

I can’t take this any more. This has covered about half the chapter and I’ll do the rest in the next post; there’s only so much of this shit I can handle. See you next time in part two.

(Images of sentient fruits are copyright 1999-2014 Neopets, Inc. Used for non-commercial purposes with permission.)

 
9 Comments

Posted by on May 10, 2014 in mitchell

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling, part two

Welcome, readers, to the third post of The Cuckoo’s Calling, where a very small amount of plot happens in between large chunks of attempted character building.

Part Two opens from Strike’s point of view, with Robin reading to him from the blog of a Skeeter-clone feminist-bitch stereotype saying nobody cares about Lula’s death and making racist comments because she was half-caste, and implying that she deserved it for being too skinny and known to be on drugs. This is honestly a completely unnecessary scene, it adds nothing to the plot or to anyone’s characterisation, and it’s also not remotely relevant to the case so Robin and Strike have no reason to be reading it. We’ve now met or heard mention of seven women; one’s the victim, one’s Perfect Robin, one’s a ‘witness’ on coke who was found to have lied to the police about things she couldn’t possibly have heard from her location, and the other four are bitches. Rowling seems to be hating on her own gender for no reason; a bad move when you’re writing under a male pseudonym. Well, it’s a bad move for a woman as well, obviously, but you know what I mean.

Our Heroes do very briefly discuss what little they know of the case from the notes John Bristow helpfully left for them, mentioning a few people they want to talk to. We have mentions of some unfortunate black stereotypes – the gay black fashion designer Lula worked for, Guy Somé, and the ‘ghetto’ black rapper who was her friend and lives in the same apartment building, Deeby Macc. There are lots of people of colour in the book, but so far all pigeonholed as tropes. Strike’s mostly busy wangsting about his ex-fiancée Charlotte still, of course.

He then suggests he and Robin go for a long walk despite us being told repeatedly last chapter that his prosthetic hurts, so yeah, we’re just going to continue to ignore his being an amputee. Detective-noir does often involve a lot of walking around, meeting witnesses and people associated with cases, meeting informants, examining important locations, etc. – but not when there’s a good reason for the detective to not want to walk around too much, and not somewhere with such a solid network of public transport as central London has. There have been thoughts from both him and Robin on several occasions now about her engagement ring meaning it’s safe for them to talk and be in the same environment, because men and women can only interact if the woman belongs to a man, preferably the one she’s interacting with but if not then another man is acceptable. I’m a terrible person, I frequently spoke to men when I was single! Sometimes I still speak to men who don’t know that a man has claimed ownership of me! [Edit by Mitchell: in case anyone doesn’t pick up on the sarcasm, I obviously do no such thing! Ownership of people is a terrible and deeply harmful construct, even disregarding slavery and confining it to romantic notions only.] On the plus side the comma abuse seems to have been reduced, though it’s still there.

Anyway, they’re checking out Lula’s apartment building and surroundings… and Strike jumps to catch the top of a wall and pull himself up to look over. Despite being out of condition and having a badly-fitting painful prosthetic leg. Facepalm. To add insult to injury he then admits to himself he’s only doing it to show off to Robin even though she’s not as pretty as the woman he’s just left. No, seriously, he genuinely thinks that and makes that comparison. I hope they don’t pair up. He’s 35, she’s 25 – that’s okay by me, most of my ships leave a ten-year gap in the dust, but in Rowling-land thus far age differences in couples simply don’t exist (with one somewhat disastrous exception we’ll discuss in the upcoming HP shred, at length). Plus Strike constantly thinks of her as ‘girl’ not ‘woman’ and they’ve known each other a day and a half. And she is engaged, as stated many times because it’s a defining trait of what passes for her character. Also we’ve had enough romance angsting for several books by now, and I’m only on page 84. Rowling then mentions his prosthetic makes it hard to walk on uneven surfaces, like the cobbled road they’re standing on now – so stop making him go for walks all the time! They don’t seem to see anything useful on this scouting trip. If they do, Strike doesn’t mention it, aloud or internally.

We meet Robin’s fiancé Matthew for the first (and only, it turns out) time, in a ‘chapter’ less than two pages long. He mocks her job, laughs at her, insults her boss and is implied to be jealous. What a great first impression. I’m sure you all feel like you can see where this is heading, yes? Still, this is a nice glimpse of Robin’s point of view, which is already becoming annoyingly scarce.

This is followed by another two-page non-chapter of Strike going to collect his stuff from Charlotte’s house, angsting over how pretty she is and how out of his league she is and how things always went wrong. It’s been implied throughout that he left because of something bad she did, but despite his obsessing over it constantly he’s yet to think about what it actually was.This is a serious problem with this book – Rowling doesn’t want to infodump everything on the readers at once, which is certainly fair enough, but she can’t stop herself hinting at everything she’s going to explain later. So we have characters constantly thinking in circles around subjects, which becomes extremely irritating very quickly and also makes the characters sound either insane or stupid.

We’ve also been told Charlotte has left Strike several times and he’s talked her into trying again, but now he’s the one that’s left it finally counts as being over. I mentioned this in the previous post, but I’m mentioning it again because it’s annoying. Also she’s totally nuts and therefore deserves it, according to the lovely narrative; Charlotte is fulfilling our hysterical ex-girlfriend slot here, since when he told her it was over she gave him a black eye and scratched his face. You may recall that Robin noticed this when they first met and yet failed to even wonder what happened to herself, let alone ask him. That’s because Robin is a nicer person than the author, at least in some respects, and recognises that this was completely unnecessary and serves only to make sure we all absolutely hate this woman we’ve yet to meet.

The following chapter once again opens inside Strike’s very self-absorbed brain, and we find out a bit of his backstory. Apparently his father is a famous 70s rock star. Why was this necessary? Why does he need to be famous? (Clearly Charlotte the beautiful fiancée was just a gold-digger. If that’s where this is going I will punch someone.) This doesn’t explain how Strike’s in debt and sleeping in his office now he’s left her. Unless Daddy hates him so he can play the victim. I hope not. Anyway, this is apparently far more important than Strike and Robin dealing with a random client who’s devastated since he’s photographed her husband kissing her sister. I thought on first reading that this would be relevant to something later, but it’s not, it’s just there to remind everyone that Strike is a private investigator. I can understand how the readers might forget that, since we’re almost a hundred pages in and so far all he’s done is read a blog and walk past an apartment building. I can’t remember if he charges by the hour or not, but at least Bristow is a lawyer and can deal with being ripped off if so.

Anyway, this client gets bundled out the door as fast as possible so Strike can start angsting about Robin’s one-week contract as his secretary expiring. God, this is straight out of those overdone Hermione-as-Snape’s-assistant fanfics. He flatteringly compares how he feels to when he was a boy and caught a grass snake and begged to be allowed to keep it, because every woman is just a pet. Once again, I am sadly not exaggerating. This possible drama is resolved in a single paragraph when Robin decides she doesn’t want to be a temp and he can cut out the agency and hire her directly with all the money he doesn’t have, and he agrees because this is how book characters behave when the writer is working to a checklist rather than a plot outline. In a sense this is better than it dragging on for chapters like the fanfics do, since it spares the reader from having to put up with it, but seriously.

More inner monologue slowly revealing Strike’s backstory, which is apparently all going to be dumped on us at once. Yep, Strike gets to play the victim because of his terrible low-class slut-shaming childhood. Mummy was a groupie and a junkie, he has various half-siblings, they lived in a squat, etc. Mr Rock Star is publicly known to be his father (so why Robin didn’t know until someone tells her in a later chapter, I don’t know; certainly a lot of random minor characters seem to recognise Strike’s name and we learn later he’s listed on his father’s Wikipedia entry) so I’m not clear on why he obviously didn’t pay any form of child support.

We finally get back to a bit of plot, Strike interviewing Derrick Wilson, the security guard from Lula’s apartment building. They get talking about Afghanistan first and Strike reflects that the army wanted him to stay on after he got his leg blown off because he was just so amazing. In the real world, or at least in a different book, he’d possibly have turned them down Because Trauma, but this is Rowling, so obviously there hasn’t been so much as a sniff of PTSD in 100+ pages and I suspect there never will be (I was proved wrong on this score. There are exactly two small scenes, which are completely unconnected with anything in the book and are never mentioned again). He doesn’t say why he actually said no. In fact, confirming this lack of trauma anywhere, the security guy is totally unbothered when describing how he discovered the body of this young model with her head smashed in and brains leaking everywhere; he’d show more emotion talking about the football scores. He’s also black, and Lula’s personal driver – Kieran Kolovas-Jones – who shows up to be interviewed afterwards is mixed-race (and apparently very pretty, though I don’t know why this matters). Our protagonist and sidekick and their love interests are almost the only white people, which is a jarring change from Rowling’s usual cast. (Later we will learn the main reason why there needed to be a lot of black people in the story, and it’s terrible.)

The interviews are very boring to read, with lots of names mentioned with no context that the reader can’t hope to keep straight.It’s a shame because this is the first solid bit of concrete plot we’ve had, and it’s not even Rowling’s fault because it’s an interview, it’s not going to be that interesting anyway. What the scene needs is Robin present, so she and Strike can discuss the content of the interviews during and afterwards and help explain to the reader who everyone is and whether we’re meant to care or not. A few of the names that crop up turn out to be at least semi-important later – Ciara Porter, Lula’s fellow model and friend/rival; Rochelle Onifade, a friend of Lula’s from rehab who is currently homeless and still a junkie (I’m not convinced a celebrity would publicly stay friends with someone in those circumstances, but if Lula in fact did, she could have used some of her riches to help the girl out, surely?) and Evan Duffield, Lula’s on-off boyfriend, who from the remarks made about him is going to be the stereotypical pretty male junkie pop star everyone hates and thinks is a loser.

We drop the plot again in favour of a long description of Strike setting up home formally in his office, walking half a mile to the laundrette and back on his painful false leg without a problem, wangsting about Charlotte, being happy Robin’s coming back, blah blah blah. Oh, a tantalising single sentence sort-of hinting at a bit of depression, while he writes up his notes from the interviews and reflects that he still thinks Bristow’s a lunatic and Lula killed herself; this is then dropped before it can develop into characterisation, and instead we get a pointless phone call to a half-sister, Lucy. He hasn’t told her he’s split up with Charlotte so this is a good excuse to shoehorn in some more angst in case there’s still one reader left who isn’t sick of it.

He then moves on to Googling people in a vague attempt by Rowling to pretend he’s actually doing any fucking work. Since he has yet to do any research on the victim beyond the single bitchy blog we opened with, he looks her up. According to the Internet, Lula was definitely a junkie, maybe a whore, and had bipolar disorder (with an unpleasant undertone suggesting these factors all mean she somehow deserved it; I don’t like this book very much). She also had a very noticeable self-harm/suicide attempt scar on her arm that wasn’t Photoshopped out of a single photograph, because that’s absolutely how the fashion industry operates. Strike looks at some Lula fan sites so Rowling can mock online fans of things; they all have bad spelling and weird obsessive adoring attitudes. We then segue into some more angst, this time about Strike missing the army and about how he never fit in there because he’s Special somehow, because that’s more important than investigating a possible murder.

In the next chapter Strike goes looking for this homeless girl Rochelle at a hostel and meets some other junkies with incomprehensible accents, because apparently only terrible and stupid people end up homeless (Rowling is apparently forgetting her hero is sleeping in his fucking office). There are separate scenes of both Strike and Robin being bizarrely excited to get texts from each other; it might be cute except she’s engaged, he’s on the rebound and they’ve known each other for a week.

Strike wanders around on his aching bad leg for a while (seriously, this is all happening in central London; he’s taken the Tube once and never gone near a bus or a cab, wtf) – this would be a good chapter showing the legwork involved in being an investigator if it was accompanied by any sort of thought process and him actually thinking about the case, but he’s apparently not thinking anything at all while he wanders around a couple of places people have mentioned in passing, so we’ve no real idea why they’re important or what he’s looking for or whether he thinks he’s made any progress. He doesn’t even seem to have decided if he believes Lula was murdered or not. Apart from romance angst he seems to have less of an internal monologue than Harry. That’s how bad this is.

He interviews one of the policemen involved. Aside from the guy being way too willing to discuss a crime with a stranger who hasn’t even shown him any ID, the scene is actually done pretty well, it fills in some gaps and helps get the story straight. It would have been much better earlier on. As far as I can tell the main suspect is Lula’s boyfriend Evan Duffield, since his alibi apparently involves him wandering around half of London in a fucking wolf mask for some insane reason so the narrative’s obviously saying it wasn’t really him some of the time. Second suspect is the rapper Deeby Macc, who lives in the same building as Lula and is a black guy into hip-hop so therefore must be a suspect (numerous people have mentioned him and none of them have given any possible motive for why he might have done it).It could also be some movie director guy living in the same building, but aside from being a jerk he doesn’t seem to have any sort of connection or motive and I don’t really know why people keep talking about him as though he’s part of the story.

Oh, turns out Rock-star Daddy (his name is John Rokeby, for anyone who cares) isn’t part of Strike’s life because he’s illegitimate and some of the half-siblings aren’t? Maybe? I’m not sure why this didn’t come up earlier, but it still doesn’t explain the apparent lack of child support or actual contact.

Strike (still no Robin, she’s hanging around the office answering messages as far as I know; that is her job, of course, but she keeps almost being a main character and then fading into the background again) has an interview with the movie director’s wife, who was the coked-up ‘witness’ from the beginning. Rowling is trying for celebrity satire I think, they’re in a really well-known restaurant and she and her friend are stuck-up rich bitches slut-shaming half the famous people walking past. The wife insists she heard some kind of argument between Lula and a man right before she fell but the police have already proved she couldn’t have heard anything. No idea what’s actually going on there or why it matters. Nothing new is being said, anyway. Strike doesn’t think she’s lying even though it’s been proven that she must be, though naturally he fails to continue thinking and thus tell us why or suggest possible theories, and in a better book this would be interesting but the entire plot is being treated as something annoying getting in the way of the protagonists angsting about romance, so it’s really hard to care at this point.

We then have a completely bizarre jarring scene of Strike going into a toy store to buy a birthday present for his nephew (the basis of the phone call from his sister earlier) and stopping to stare fixedly at some military dolls – it would actually be a very good depiction of PTSD if there had been anything else earlier in the book to hint at it. I want to give Rowling credit, since as far as I recall it’s the first time she’s ever written plausible psychological trauma and it is genuinely well done, but at nearly 200 pages in it’s too little too late and just seems totally out of place.

And that’s the end of part two. Very little has actually happened still despite it being the longest section of the book, and Robin seems to have vanished over the past few chapters. Next time, the plot picks up a bit without getting any more interesting, there’s more unnecessarily drawn out pseudoromance, and I start getting really fed up.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling:
Introduction
Part One
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

 
5 Comments

Posted by on May 7, 2014 in loten

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

More musings on Game of Thrones (and rape)

[Content Notes: Game of Thrones, discussion of rape]

[Spoiler Warning: Game of Thrones S04E05 “First of His Name”]

A short post – I’m not dead. Homecoming post will be delayed this week, I had a lot more to say about chapter one than I thought I was going to and I haven’t quite finished with it yet. Hopefully I’ll get it finished in a day or two, but if not I’ll try for a double feature next week.

In the meantime, some musings about Game of Thrones.

Firstly: it’s a very weird experience watching the show now, because they’ve now changed enough things from the books that I often have no idea where things are going to go. Obviously I still know a lot of the broad strokes and major events, but as to which events are going to happen when (or in what order) and the fates of a lot of pseudo-minor characters who were changed substantially (Shae and Bronn in particular, Locke who was the replacement for Vargo Hoat, probably a few others that aren’t immediately coming to mind), I almost feel like I’m unspoiled. It’s very bizarre, and I’m not sure I like it. I feel weirdly anxious watching the show, partially because I’m not sure what they’ll be changing and how that will impact the show as an adaptation of books I love, and partially because I’m never sure when there’s going to be a cringe-worthy GANG RAPE ORGY out of nowhere like there was last week (my eyeballs were given no opportunity to consent to that!).

That said, I think this week’s episode was pretty solid, and a definite improvement over the last two in that I didn’t see anything to get truly outraged about. There is, of course, still problematic content and I’m not going to say the show is perfect, but there were a few things I definitely appreciated.

Mainly, what I wanted to comment on was the fact that I thought the women at Craster’s Keep were able to regain some agency in this episode, which was a welcome relief after the aforementioned gang rape scene in episode four. There was a scene in which Jon Snow is fighting a losing battle against Karl (the man who shouted “rape them until they’re dead” in the previous episode, and ostensibly the leader of the mutineers), until one of the women comes up behind him and stabs him in the back. A bit cliche, especially for Game of Thrones which tries to subvert and avoid cliche wherever possible (or at least the source material does), but it was a welcome sight. And after that, once Jon et al were finished with killing the mutineers, he asks the women what they’re going to do and offers them a place at Castle Black; the oldest one refuses – “we’ll find our own way” is what she says – citing the fact they’d been abused by Craster and abused by the mutineers who were formerly Night’s Watch. Jon also asks them whether they intend to stay at Craster’s keep; the spokeswoman says no and tells them to burn it to the ground, which they do.

It’s not perfect – in particular, notice the fact that these women are all still nameless, which I struggled with while summarising it – but I nevertheless think it was a significant improvement and helps to make up for the awfulness in the previous episode a little, though obviously it can’t negate it. At least in this episode I didn’t feel like those women were being treated as props by the narrative (thank god for small favours!).

I won’t say the episode was completely free of problematic material; there was a scene in which Meera Reed serves as a damsel in distress and is threatened with rape only to be conveniently saved by the bell as the Night’s Watch party arrives and begins their attack (not only do we once again have a competent female character forced into a situation in which she must be rescued by the actions of men, but the ‘conveniently interrupted rape’ is also a horrible cliche that I’d prefer not to see the show resort to). And there is still the problem that the rape of Cersei Lannister by Jaime is completely ignored by the show, as if it had never happened at all (not that I honestly expected otherwise).

I’m not going to pass a verdict overall; if you decided to stop watching the show in the wake of the last two episodes, I don’t think it’s in your best interest to start again (particularly if you wish to avoid triggering material), but this week’s episode may leave a better taste in your mouth than they did.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 5, 2014 in mitchell

 

Tags: , , , ,