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Book Report: Uprooted

So. Your Humble Blogger has written about Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels, and y’all have presumably figured out that I like them a bunch. Not that they’re perfect, but they are enjoyable—they play to her strengths, and her strengths happen to coincide nicely with my Sources of Reader Pleasure. On the other hand, I have been feeling that the Temeraire story is getting played-out; I don’t look forward to the new books the way I might. I was somewhat ambivalent about the new non-Temeraire novel, then, mostly eager, but a little concerned that Ms. Novik would abandon the plot-driven incident-packed style that I like so much.

Well, Uprooted is certainly packed with incident.

It is also powerfully evocative, and the world of Fantasy Early Modern Poland is a magnificent creation. The magic, as well, is lovely, and the core of the book is in Our Hero, a young woman with a talent for magic, as apprentice to an older (but dead sexy) man whose talent for magic appears at first to be utterly incompatible with hers… yes, you can certainly tell where this is going. But while it does have some of the tropes of Romance that get up my nose, it manages to avoid other ones that get even further up my nose, so that’s all right, d’y’see? And while I don’t know that I think the characters, as such, are brilliant inventions, the relationships between the characters are compellingly drawn, and drawn in such a way as to propel the plot, and that’s most certainly all right.

I’m wondering, though, whether the inclusion of a scene earlyish in the book where a Bad Guy attempts to rape Our Hero is the sort of thing that the article I can’t seem to find now was on about—I mean an article I can’t seem to find now, that says more or less if you are including a rape scene just to show that the villain is a Bad Guy, please don’t. But there have been lots of notes recently about the inclusion (or not) of rape scenes in movies, books, TV and comics; the question really ought to be in people’s minds. And while this scene is handled quite well, it really isn’t necessary from a plot point of view, and is of questionable value from a character point of view—that is to say, nothing of the decisions she later makes seems informed specifically by her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. Of course, there are lots of things in books that aren’t necessary, and perhaps sexual violence does not, in fact, constitute a special category such that an author must justify its presence by necessity. Your Humble Blogger is inclined to think it does, by virtue of the history of the trope, but your mileage is likely to vary. I’m not angry at Ms. Novik for including the scene, I’m just a trifle uncomfortable with it in the otherwise terrific book.

Digression: I am, however, really angry with Google right now. In an attempt to discover whether other people had been musing on this question, I typed [novik uprooted rape scene] as my initial search, without quotes, and Google seems to feel that rape and sex are synonymous. In addition to making YHB angry, they boost to the top of the search discussions of an entirely different scene, consensual in nature, effectively obscuring any articles that I’m actually looking for. But mostly, that’s just bad and wrong, Google. Boo. End Digression.

Anyway… Uprooted is a terrific book, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. One of those when-can-I-get-back-to-my-book reads. On several occasions I responded aloud to an event in the book; a couple of times with an ewwww but at least once with a yesss!

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

On the one hand, I've read several such articles about not including gratuitous rape scenes, and I can see your point.

On the other hand, the attempted rape in this book is one of several of the prince's actions that form a bigger picture. It's not the only thing that points out his bad behavior - instead it seems to me that it fits in with his tendency throughout the book to treat people as things. (Soldiers and peasants being more disposable and all.) It also fits with his decision when they reach the court that of course he will marry Our Hero (because she is the young woman of note in the events that have just taken place) and of course she will feel honored and not need to be asked.

In other words, while I agree about the value of examining rape scenes in fiction, I am not sure I agree that the attempted rape in this book is as gratuitous as all that. Also, I don't think it becomes as central to the plot as many of the more frustrating sorts of rape scenes do. And to the extent that it does, it's not in the same ways (see the articles I link below).

Agreed about Google's search methodology being annoying here. Would it help to add prince or his name to the list of search terms? It might narrow the results sufficiently. Or maybe switching to Duck Duck Go would make a difference?

I don't know if any of these is the article about gratuitous rape scenes that you had in mind, but all three made an impression on me when I first read them:

Writing About Rape, by Jim Hines (who has worked as a rape counselor).
This is a Post About Literary .Rape, by Maggie Stiefvater
Rape Scenes Aren't Just Awful, They're Lazy Writing, by Laura Hudson


What you say is all true; the prince does treat people as things, and this is the first, not the only, example of his nastiness. However, (a) mostly that is an overwhelming ruthlessness in support of a misguided goal, rather than simple nastiness; the rape would not have moved him forward toward that purpose at all; and (2) I do believe that a different example during that scene would have been equally effective at making us distrust the Prince, even when his goals coincide with Our Hero's. I guess my feeling is that if there are several available incidents that would serve the purpose, all things being more or less equal, I would rather at this point that the author choose a different one.

However, I oughtn't to have given the impression that this compares to the 'standard' literary rape scenes that the articles you link (thank you) are more concerned with—it does participate in that cultural mess, and I think needs to be held accountable for that, but much of that mess is just horribly vile, and this… just isn't.

Thanks,
-V.


Hm, yeah. That's sensible - this particular instance might well fail on the "was there some other unpleasant incident that could have been used for the same purpose" question. It just feels less obviously gratuitous than some such scenes I've encountered. I suppose there will always be a grey area.


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