I’m going to discuss something that I have observed this year. It was always at the back of my mind but I’m putting it to paper. As people who follow my shelves on Goodreads might have noticed, I read quite a bit of romantic fiction.In 2016, I have read three books that focus on characters that have been raped.
I would like to state at this point that I am not against the representation of rape victims in romance novels. The thing that makes me feel uneasy is how they are represented.
I’m going to focus on these three novels that I have recently read to illustrate my point.Please keep in mind that I enjoyed all three novels but the academic in me couldn’t resist exploring how rape is used in these novels.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
In Between the Devil and Desire, we are introduced to the stereotypical bad guy with the heart of gold, i.e. Jack Dodger. Now Dodger is a character that I liked but I liked him more before I got to know that he was a rape victim. Before you take out your guns and start throwing violent comments my way, let me justify why. Jack Dodger had a complex history and background. He belonged to the streets, he was a thief who made himself into a successful businessman and he was charming and preferred not to form an emotional attachment with people. In the novel, the fact that Jack is emotionally closed off is explained as being a result of his rape. I wouldn’t have a problem with this narrative unless I had read something very similar in quite a few novels before. I couldn’t really get attached to the character and instead of feeling sorry for the character all I felt after finding out that the character had been so brutally violated was disappointment.Why was I disappointed you ask? Because I saw this plot twist coming.
The fact that reading about rape no longer makes me horrified but disappointed just shows how rape in literature is overused as a literary tool to such an extent that it no longer makes the reader feel any deep emotion. It is the norm in literature now. Tortured hero or heroine in a romance novel? You can bet she/he’s been raped in the past.
In a way I think this contributes largely to how everyone is getting desensitized and dissociated from reacting to rape in the real world. If everyone seems to suffer from this, it’s not really such a big deal. Because, in literature everyone moves on from this thing called ‘rape’ and gets their happily ever after.
But it’s not just this DELUSION that every rape victim will move on that angers and saddens me but how a lot of literary fiction handles how the characters react to rape and go about living their lives.
Jack Dodger faces his demons head on and emerges victorious. Basically advocating the ‘you’ll- get- over- it- and- make- your- enemy- pay- fantasy.’
In Kennedy’s novel, The Deal introduces the fact that the protagonist has been raped right at the start and that really shocked me! I was waiting for the big reveal in which I was told that *surprise* the protagonist is damaged because of rape. The fact that it was stated as a fact right off the bat is something I’m not sure I was comfortable with either.Of course, the novel explores the emotional turmoil of the protagonist afterwards but it takes a long time to get down to it.One thing I liked was it actually explored some physical issues a rape victim might face but …. how those issues were miraculously solved by a special guy….. um…I don’t even know what to comment without sounding ridiculously cynical.
I am not aware of how much research these authors have done into abuse and rape but it is clear that they are building a world where everything is solved by true love and the RIGHT guy.Because after all, rape is just normal baggage people carry around, isn’t it? Or at least that is what these novels seem to be saying.
“Everyone gets raped and they all get over it.”
In Bared to You, it is not one but two people (maybe even three) who have suffered from sexual abuse and no this book does not focus on a group of people who met in group therapy. These situations just seem extremely unrealistic as people in this novel seem to AGAIN be over their biggest insecurities when the RIGHT person is in their lives. The real world doesn’t work that way! It might sometimes but literature would have you believe that this happens all the time.
Now to be fair, romance novels are a source of wish fulfillment and maybe rape survivors find comfort reading these novels, I’m sure people who are not survivors do. But, after reading about rape in romance novel after romance novel it becomes pretty clear that rape is no longer a word that strikes a multitude of emotions in every person but a tool. A very effective tool to draw people in and play with their heartstrings, which is why it is used again and again till you are left feeling numb.
I know that this is not the authors intention but having characters that have been through abuse has become a trend.I have lost count of how many novels have used it as a sensational trope to add drama.
Let me ask this, why is there a need to give a character the background of having suffered abuse especially rape? I am not advocating that there should be no rape survivors in fiction but,is there no other reason why a character has become damaged beyond the point of recovery?Why trivialize such a pertinent issue to add drama to a fictional narrative?