Monday, 18 March 2013

The Moral Responsibility of The Author - part 3

In two earlier posts, I discussed the moral responsibility of the author with regards to copycat violence and involving oneself in the real lives of those you're writing about with reference to Stephen King and Harriet Sergeant. 

I just happened to have finished reading a novel by acclaimed Crime Thriller writer Jo Nesbo. And it threw up another slant on the same question of just how much moral responsibility does an author bear?

Now crime fiction inevitably deals with the unpleasant side of humanity as we prey upon one another within the pages of such books. Murders, rapes, torture, and all manner of amoral or beastly behaviour towards our fellow man are the meat and drink of the genre. So one is already wallowing in a moral quagmire in dealing with the genre. If such subject matter repulses, the chances are you won't read it.

Now I don't read much of it, not because of moral repugnance or squeamishness, but mainly because I find it a limited genre, especially when applied to series. Nesbo has a detective character called Harry Hole who has been central to the action in nine of his books. I struggle with the fresh revelation in each book of some new character trait or personal history in Hole that somehow was never pertinent in any of the previous books. So I've only read 3 of the 9 books.

In "The Redeemer" the book opens with an under-age rape. The bulk of the action moves to take place when all concerned are adults. The victim has eschewed sex, partly from the trauma of her experiences and partly due to her Christian faith as she remains unwed (the book's action takes place in the world of the Norwegian Salvation Army). However, she is prepared to break her self-prohibition (and a tenet of her faith) when she falls for Harry Hole in the course of his investigation of a murder.

Now I find this problematic. Harry Hole can "cure" rape victims of their fear just through his sheer magnetism. Hole is quintessentially associated with Nesbo, though of course he is a fictional creation. But I cannot help but feel there is an element of Nesbo's own conscious or unconscious fantasy as to how he may see himself projected on to Hole. Even if I'm mistaken in this supposition, it's still a highly problematic concept and one I think that oversteps the moral mark. Men 'curing' women simply by their own physical allure is not a line I think ought to be casually dropped in as a plot device or some characterisation. Nesbo handles the woman's Road To Damascus conversion really unconvincingly, with some really cringeworthy sentiments expressed by her towards Hole, as she throws herself at him with a mixture of chasteness, callowness and natural sexuality bursting out.

Maybe such a point seems churlish in a book that starts off with rape and involves murder and dismemberment. Maybe it's wrong to assume the reader accepts these criminal activities as par for the course, but I just feel that this notion of curing a rape victim is not such a common or garden part of the crime world and needed picking up for debate rather than just slipping under the radar.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Katherine Hajer said...

Pity, I had Nesbo on my list of writers to check out. Now I'm not so sure I'll get to him. I do read a lot of mystery -- it's my "candy" reading for when I want to chill out and just enjoy the ride.

As for your question: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of books I've read that handle rape in a believable way, and still have fingers left over. And yes, I have some real-world insights into what it's like *cough*. It seems to me most authors swing for the extremes: either it's no big deal, like the obligatory "let's get the story kicked off" rapes in bodice-rippers from the 70s and 80s, or else the victim is traumatised beyond functioning for extended periods of time.

The best recent depiction I've read recently is Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's a horribly brutal attack, but Larsson gets a few key things right: he makes it very clear the victim will not come around and eventually enjoy herself, that it is an attack, that it is not "having sex" for the victim. Most importantly, it shows that just because someone is raped doesn't mean their sex life or sexual feelings permanently.