3 stars

Contemporary Romance Review: A Violation by Charlotte Lamb

A Violation, Charlotte Lamb, Worldwide (Harlequin), 1983, cover artist unknown

Spoiler Alert ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

A Romance That is Not a Romance

A Violation, a full-length novel by category author Charlotte Lamb, isn’t a straightforward romance, but somewhere more between women’s fiction and romantic fiction. Like so many of her works, the major themes are the philosophy of love and what are the defined roles of being a man and a woman, especially when it comes to amorous relationships.

In general, I think she was better restrained by the limitations of category romance as at times here she veers off into navel-gazing. Nevertheless, A Violation was a satisfactory read, not as good as the similarly-themed Stranger in the Night, but much better than a few of Lamb’s other Mills and Boon/ Harlequins that also dealt with sexual assault (I am looking at you Dark Fever).

Rape, especially a violent rape by a stranger who debases the heroine, leaving her life in tatters, isn’t the most comfortable backstory for a romance. As stated, though, this isn’t strictly a romance novel, so if you’re looking for more than a “Happy For Now” ending, you might be disappointed.

How a Tragedy Affects Everyone

Clare is a modern woman of her era (early 1980’s) with a successful career and a live-in boyfriend with whom she’s sexually active but not madly in love. One night a stranger breaks into her home and brutally violates her. The rape changes everything. Her relationship with her boyfriend is destroyed. It also causes a ripple in the lives of both her mother and her best friend, Pamela, an ultra-independent, career-minded model. And so it does too for Clare’s boss, Larry, who is there for her as she recovers from her shocking experience.

Understandably, the violation of Clare’s body, her home, her sanctity turns everything upside down. Her friends, family, co-workers all know of the horrible experience she’s faced. Clare deals with the trauma by focusing on the healing, not on the event itself. She goes to counseling to seek solace. Instead of wrapping herself up in her victim status, Clare uses the tragic occurrence as a springboard to learn who she is and transform into a stronger person.

The friendship between Larry and Clare starts to morph into something more intense gradually. Meanwhile, Pamela engages in a “will-they-or-won’t they romance” with her polar opposite, a traditional-minded guy named Joe. And Clare’s mother, a woman from a much more conservative generation when it comes to sex and gender issues, also has to deal with understanding what happened and is happening to her daughter.

One facet of this book that fascinated me was the ever-present topic of second-wave feminism. This book was like a time capsule into an era where women did not have all the options that some today might take for granted.

The two burgeoning relationships form parallel stories about the battle of the sexes. Clare ponders whether Pamela could ever truly be content with a man like Joe:

Clare could hardly believe now that Pamela sat around yearning to do just that, daydreaming about making Joe’s breakfast before he went off to work, wondering aloud what sort of children they would have…It was pathetic, like hearing a free bird mewing to get inside a cage.

As for herself, Clare goes on a voyage of discovery as to what’s important in her life.

A Discussion Worth Having

Clare: That may be how men think but it isn’t how women think.

Larry: Again that depends on your definition…The Pill’s liberated women. Sex is no longer a dangerous pleasure for them. They could have it on demand without fear of consequences, just like a man.

Clare: Except women aren’t men, either physically or mentally, and they tend to get emotionally involved with anyone they make love with. How is it going to get around that and your ‘Brave New World? ‘

Larry: I didn’t make the rules I’m just reporting what I’ve noticed going on. When I was 20 there were two sorts of girls: those who did it, and those you have to marry if you talk them into it and they got pregnant. That no longer applies.

Clare: It strikes me that for all this talk about liberating women, it was men who got liberated, they no longer have to pay for sex–either money or marriage.

Larry: It was women who demanded equality and liberation–now they’ve got it all they do is complain.

Clare: …I suppose it’s OK for women who get the exciting job – top executives and big companies, models like Pamela, actresses. But what about all the women slaving away at boring jobs and offices and factories, who wish to God they could afford to stay home and run the house and cook the dinner? My mother never worked, her generation didn’t unless they had no other option. But I – when I got back from work it was me who cooked some dinner…It didn’t matter how tired I was…

Larry: That was your own fault! Don’t whine to me about letting him use you as an unpaid servant. You have a tongue in your head, you should have told him straight that it wasn’t on; if he couldn’t go fifty-fifty with you, you could hit the road and not come back.

Clare: I did. In the end, I did.

While shocked at her friend’s seeming change in attitude, Clare realizes that certain traditional values appeal to her, and she won’t hold out for anything less. Larry’s dogged pursuit intrigues her, but she is hesitant to engage in anything serious with the notorious womanizer that he is.

Can a Happy for Now Ending Be a True Romance?

Larry is Clare’s friend, and, slowly, he begins to be something else, something much more meaningful. But Clare is not a woman to be taken lightly. She knows what she wants in life and expects no less.

“I love you,” he whispered…

“You can’t be in love with me. It isn’t possible…You only want me because I refused you. I’m sure that if I gave in yesterday and let you seduce me you wouldn’t have asked me to marry you today.”

“You could be right,” he replied equably. “You presented a challenge I have to overcome somehow…I want to kiss you until you–“

“Until I submit to you! …That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Domination and submission you dominate and I submit. I refuse to play that game. I’m not going to marry you. When I marry–if I marry–it won’t be someone powerful and domineering like you. I’ll marry someone with whom I’m equal.”

“But we are equals, first,” he argued. “Haven’t you noticed you’re almost as tall as I am and you’re strongly armed as well as strong-willed?” His mouth curved ruefully and he touched the plaster on his forehead. “You proved in no uncertain way that you refuse to be dominated…That you’re reckless, don’t give a damn for convention and you like to have your own way as much as I like to have mine.”

Final Analysis of A Violation

In the end, there is no definitive yes to marriage, but that’s ok here. Oddly enough, the frightening, life-altering experience Clare has gone through enabled her to find herself truly. And in knowing herself, she knows what she wants in a lifetime partnership: to be equals, yet complementary, two halves of a whole part.

This is not a book I enjoyed experiencing. It was uncomfortable, yet also invigorating. It succeeds as a story of a woman’s self-discovery, although as a romance, I’m not sure where it fits. However, if you can handle the sensitive subject matter, I think it’s worth a read.

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