5 Books About Rape

25th Sep 2013

Yet again, this week has seen a series of on- and off-line media storms relating to rape, violence and sexual assault, including comedians at Edinburgh making misguided, irresponsible, offensive and potentially triggering victim-blaming "jokes" alongside the biased media coverage of rape and sexual assault trials and sentencing.

Amidst all that, we wanted to address the imbalance by celebrating five challenging, uplifting and at times even funny books which handle this horrific subject in powerful and engaging ways…

I Know Why The Caged Bird SingsMaya Angelou

Maya Angelou, best-selling and award winning memoirist, poet, novelist, ex-pimp, prostitute, opera star, journalist, organiser for Martin Luther King Jr, screenwriter and director. All the women in the list, authors and characters, are strong women.

But Angelou? If you haven’t read her already you need to go away and do so.

Caged Bird is the first in her series of memoirs and is arguably the most shocking and engaging. While her stories about living in Egypt and Ghana have a darkly humorous pathos it’s Caged Bird that has drawn in her millions of readers.

Telling the tale of her childhood rape and subsequent pregnancy at the age of 17, this is a demonstration of how racism and betrayal can bow a spirit down and how inner strength and love of good books can set us all free.

Room – Emma Donoghue

This is the book everyone was getting worked up over a few years ago. “Inspired” by the Josef Fritzel case, this is a novel that could have gone horribly wrong.

Five-year-old Jack lives with his mum in their room. All the pieces of furniture in the room are his friends: wardrobe, TV where the little people live, bowl, bathtub.

He and his mum play games and wait for a visit from Old Nick. One day Jack’s mum tells him they must leave the room and that’s where Donoghue comes into her own.

By focusing on the experiences of a child in that situation she manages to cushion Jack and by extension the reader. The horror is implied in the gaps between Jack’s words, in the things he misses. Instead Donoghue focuses upon their escape and Jack’s introduction to a new world: a world outside the room.

To take a subject such as the long term imprisonment and abuse of a young woman and to give it a unique, tactful and insightful spin is an impressive feat and Donoghue carries it off. By offering new insights to the reader she manages to avoid tabloid clichés.

With one word Sebold lets the reader know what’s in store. This memoir knocks the wind out of you and leaves you with the hint of a smile.Lucky – Alice Sebold

“You save yourself or you remain unsaved”. From the writer of The Lovely Bones comes Lucky, the story of Sebold’s own rape at the age of 18 and the battle she waged to secure her attackers’ arrest and conviction.

Understandably Sebold seems to specialise in survivors reasserting themselves against the men who raped them. Her award-winning debut novel, The Lovely Bones, featured the rape and murder of 14 year old Susie Salmon, who proceeds to haunt her attacker until SPOILER. Both books are fantastic and haunting reads but it’s the raw power of Lucky that singles it out for us.

The book’s unusual title comes from a comment made to Sebold in the aftermath of her attack. She was lucky. With one word Sebold lets the reader know what’s in store. This memoir knocks the wind out of you and leaves you with the hint of a smile.

We Were The MulvaneysJoyce Carol Oates

The big families always hide the biggest secrets and the Mulvaneys are no different. On the surface the perfect family, the Mulvaneys eventually disintegrate after the only daughter, Marianne, is raped by a family friend.

When Marianne refuses to press charges against her attacker she is sent away to stay with distant relatives. Her family spirals into despair and bankruptcy and her brothers leave home, never to return. But! (And fucking hell, Oates, we need a but!) But they are eventually reunited, minus a few members, and closer than ever before.

The reasons WWTM makes the list over, say, Rape: A Love Story is that it perfectly captures the heightened emotions that surround an experience like this.

The constant repetition leads the reader through panic, frustration, anger and eventually catharsis. This is an extremely important book that highlights how many people can be effected by one act of violence.

Push – Sapphire

A book about rape that makes the reader laugh out loud. Known by most people as the Oscar winning Precious, Push is the story of Precious Jones, 16 years old, KFC thief, pregnant by her father with her second child.

It’s the kind of book that the reader needs to take a deep breath before reading but need is the word here. This is a book that needs to be read. Because it’s dark but never grim, and hopeful but never trite.

Precious is kicked out of school for being pregnant and joins the new college Each One Teach One where she meets Ms Blue Rain, an inspirational teacher (and if anyone deserves this much loved standfast, it’s Precious Jones).

The rest of the story sees Precious gain confidence and become less under her families control. She is given a literacy award, she joins a help group and she begins to think about having a boyfriend of her own.

Small events in the grand scheme but the reader is left cheering every step she takes. The result is a an unrelenting story of hope and redemption.

Are there any other books about rape that you’d add to our list?

(Image via Thomas Hawk)