I keep coming back in my mind to Louise Erdrich’s deathless phrase, from The Night Watchman: “…you never really knew a man until you told him you didn’t love him.”
It speaks the most profound truth about the character of men that I have ever come across. I think every woman and man should always hold it at the top of their minds. It certainly skewers me and some of the more shameful episodes of my late adolescence. I’m happy to say that I had an epiphany and reformed myself, but I will always regret the way I treated a couple of the girls who didn’t love me. I wasn’t physically abusive, nor did I threaten violence, but I did use silence as a weapon.
There is worse behaviour, or you could say worse-and-worse behaviour, both historically and currently. J K Rowling (who is Robert Galbraith) has seen a lot of it, as have any number of more and less prominent women on the internet.
You could spin off from Erdrich in any number of ways: you never really knew a man until you told him he was wrong on the internet. Or wrong about the Beatles/Dylan. You never really knew a man until you told him it was Black History Month or LGBTQ+ History Month.
The other well known phrase or saying I keep coming back to is the old lie: hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
LOL, ROFL etc. *dies*
The Ink Black Heart is set in this world, the online world where men are scorned and reveal their true colours. Where inadequate men try to use lines they’ve learned from charlatan “pick up artists” and swallow the myths and lies and hatred and small dick energy spewed the length and breadth of the internet. But Galbraith/Rowling has a problem, which is the same problem shared by any contemporary thriller writer: people who spend most of their lives online create most of their drama and conflict online. Which means there’s a lot of typing and a lot of reading involved.
Sure. So this novel ends up feeling like a kind of throwback: an epistolary or episodic narrative, where instead of letters being exchanged, we have DMs and tweets and in-game chat sessions. Fine, except. What level of detail do we need? Do we need to repeat the full username every time? The datestamp? It either matters or it doesn’t.
The Ink Black Heart comes in at 1024 pages in hardback, and nearly 33 hours as an audiobook, which is what I listened to.
Blimey! My initial thought was, well, it’s more than I want to spend, but that’s a lot of listening, hopefully pleasurable. My other initial thought was, Christ, when writers get big, no editor can get them to cut anything. Stephen King, George R R Martin, Lee Child.…
So this is long, long, long, which I don’t mind. In fact, I was looking forward to how long it would last as an audiobook. But how much of it, do you think, consists of narrator Robert Glenister reading out Twitter handles, game handles, and datestamps? Answer: a lot.
Many of the chapters consist of nothing but the above: short messages exchanged between characters, but surrounded by the cruft of @ addresses and date-and-time information. Some of it – some of the cruft – was of course clues. But how much is enough? What you might quickly skip through on the page becomes burdensome if the narrator is obliged to read it all out. Consider the different contexts: if I’m looking at several pages of texts consisting of @personA chatting with @personB and @personC, then I can quite quickly skip over all the usernames and just read the messages. You get the gist. But poor old Glenister has to read out the whole lot.
And so you’ll be listening to 15 minutes and upwards of this kind of thing, whereas on the page you could read/skip through it in less than five.
So I think this creates a problem in audiobook terms, because 15 minutes of this kind of thing is a lot.
And so much of the plot here relies upon the who and the what and the why of online interactions, leaving Strike and Robin glued to laptops and iPads in various locations.
The set-up: creator of a successful online animation comes to Robin for help, and is then murdered. Relatives come to Strike and Co to ask for an investigation into the identity of a particular online troll, Anomie, who seems to be the ringleader of those who had threatened and persecuted the victim.
And as you read, you can’t help thinking that this is Rowling’s world. She’s had to put up with this kind of thing for years, and she is justifiably sick to the back teeth of it. Someone can believe something different than you do, that’s the way of the world. We don’t live in a totalitarian state wherein having different thoughts is a crime. Unless you are a woman on the internet, of course. In which case you are treated as the worst kind of pariah, insulted, threatened, hounded, attacked, doxed, shamed, and so on and so on. And people who claim to be fans of your work also try to hijack that work and take ownership of it because you no longer deserve to have that ownership.
So to this. The sixth book in the Strike/Ellacott partnership, and it’s good. I enjoyed it, apart from all the @ handles and dates being read out loud. And I have to admit to feeling a bit jaded by the unspoken feelings between the two main characters. The author probably knows that putting them together as a couple would be a mistake. There are plenty of historical examples of creators giving fans what they want and kind of killing the vibe. So I get it. I don’t need them to be a couple, actually. But the perpetual getting of the wrong end of the stick is wearing thin.
Anyway, men: just stop. And superfans: also just stop. Read, as they say, a different book.