GUEST POST/REVIEW: Janet Webb’s June TBR Challenge Read: Charlotte Lamb’s A VIOLATION

ViolationMiss Bates is thrilled to have the pleasure and privilege of offering her readers Janet Webb’s wonderful review of Charlotte Lamb’s A Violation for June’s TBR Challenge. (Please note that the novel under review contains the heroine’s rape. Miss Bates hasn’t read A Violation … yet, that is, after reading Janet’s review … and can’t say how explicitly the subject is treated.)

Blurb: She had it all, conventional wisdom said – a creative career in glamorous advertising and a handsome, upwardly mobile boyfriend. Yet the gnawing dissatisfaction Clare Forrester felt was pushing her to the crisis point. She had no answers, but she knew something had to change.

Then fate intervened with a nightmare – a senseless violent rape she was powerless to prevent. When time began again after that shocking moment, Clare’s life and the lives of those closest to her were changed beyond belief.

Values, friendships, family relations – all were traumatically altered. And now the question was, could Clare rebuild any life at all from the shattered fragments of her self. And would the power of love heal the deepest wound a woman could know …

How can a book published in 1983 be so modern? Last week, I read Birds, Bees and Babies ’94, an anthology featuring Nora Roberts and Dallas Schulze and there too, the heroines were self-confident, self-questioning, and only interested in a partnership of equals. Feminism on the page, surely … and yet A Violation is more than thirty years old. Perhaps A Violation fits better in the space between women’s fiction and straight romance than under the contemporary romance label. I choose it because I am incapable of not buying Charlotte Lamb, but I’m not quite up to date on my reading of her back-list.

Clare Forrester does, indeed, on the surface, seem to “have it all” … a challenging creative career, a roommate she likes, and a boyfriend … well, a boyfriend she tolerates. They are past the first blush of falling for each other and settled into a routine of Clare serves Tom steak and drip coffee at her flat when she would prefer to go out. Why? Because she too works hard and, maybe, at the end of the day she’s as tired as Tom professes to be. Clare is a mass of unexamined and unresolved personal and professional issues, but avoids thinking about them.

A brutal, violent rape lands her in the hospital and changes everything. No longer can she ignore the thoughts flooding her mind, and the pain the rapist inflicted. Her charismatic boss, Larry Hillier, persuades her to recuperate at his mother’s seaside cottage. His mother is the antithesis of a nurturing, maternal Betty Neels-style nanny, or mother. Completely self-absorbed by her herbalist practice, she offers Clare serenity, privacy, and the healing hand of nature. Clare gets stronger every day and eventually starts to think about her life before the assault. Was Tom selfish (well, of course) but what part did she play in their unsatisfactory relationship?

. . . she had used Tom, she had clung to him like a weak plant to a strong stake, afraid of losing him by opposing his slightest wish, by arguing or demanding that he start treating her as an equal rather than a lower species of being. [] . . . why had she let him take advantage of her like that? It wasn’t Tom who was to blame, it was she. She should have been firm with him from the start. She should have put a value on herself if she wanted Tom to value her.

And value herself Clare begins to do, damning the torpedoes as she goes. When she eventually returns to work at the ad agency, she takes umbrage at many things she would have previously swallowed. Clare realizes that she has not been treated as an equal within the company framework: “The equality was false while it was granted by men as a favor. Equals do not grant favors to each other. They exist side by side, on the same level.”

Larry Hillier has always valued Clare’s abilities, but had no reason to see her as anything other than what she’s always been, cast in a traditional feminine role, “. . . mopper-up to his war effort, nurse to his victims, seductress to his clients, a maid of all work who could be whistled up to take loose ends in tow, but who was not involved in the decision making.” No more. It’s not that Clare doesn’t value the ying and yang of the way she and Larry work together—it’s worked well for the firm. Going forward, Clare wants what she wants, not granted benevolently as a sop, but a recognition of her true value. A new title, new office, better salary, and a seat on the board. That will do as a start. Are you wondering if the happily ever after is a woman and her bank account? Do not fear, Clare eventually storms Larry’s barricades and they see each other through eyes of appreciative love. Even then, Clare will not be pressured, or moved. Let’s leave them with their romantic happily-for-now. Clare says:

            “I’m frightened of the way I feel, the way I think you feel. Let’s take it slowly for now.”

He looked at her, then sat up in bed, “Look, no hands,” he said, holding out his hands, bare, empty, vulnerable. “I’ll play it the way you want to play it, darling; there’s no need to feel pressured.”

            He understood.

4 thoughts on “GUEST POST/REVIEW: Janet Webb’s June TBR Challenge Read: Charlotte Lamb’s A VIOLATION

  1. I read a lot of Charlotte Lamb Harlequin Presents as a teenager. Her books were always rather disturbing and intense.

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    • Of the ones I’ve read, I would agree with you. She’s a great prose writer, though, and I really appreciate that. But the first one I tried to read, I had to DNF. It was too upsetting to me.

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  2. Ooh, that does sound good. Great review, Janet! I find Lamb’s books endlessly fascinating. As I said recently in a different comment thread, I think that she was endlessly pushing the boundaries of the genre form, and I think of her work as exploring the way relationships constrain and empower us. Sometimes they don’t work, but more often she makes me think hard.

    And thanks to Miss Bates for hosting you, too.

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