Spoiler Alert ⚠
It strikes me that for all this talk about liberating women, it was men who got liberated!A Violation by Charlotte Lamb
A Violation, a full-length novel by category author Charlotte Lamb, isn’t a straightforward romance. It’s somewhere more between women’s fiction and romantic fiction.
Like so many of her works, it encompasses major themes. Here she emphasizes the philosophy of love and what are the roles of being a man and a woman, especially regarding amorous relationships. Charlotte Lamb addresses a difficult and taboo subject in romance: rape.
A Romance That is Not a Romance
In general, I think Lamb was better restrained by the limitations of category romance, as at times in A Violation she veers off into navel-gazing. Nevertheless, this was a satisfactory read. I wouldn’t rank it as exemplary as the similarly-themed Stranger in the Night, but superior to a few of Lamb’s other Mills & 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.
Clare is a modern woman of her era (the early 1980s) 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.
Understandably, the violation of Clare’s body, her home, and her sanctity turns everything upside down. Her friends, family, and co-workers all know of the horrible experience she’s faced.
The rape changes everything. Her relationship with her boyfriend is destroyed.
But not her life.
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.
How a Tragedy Affects Everyone
Clare’s experience 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.
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.
Also, there is Clare’s mother, who is from a more conservative generation when it comes to sex and gender issues. She has to deal with comprehending the tragedy that has transformed her daughter.
Charlotte Lamb on Feminism and Romance
One facet of A Violation 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.
While shocked at her friend’s seeming change in attitude, Clare realizes that certain traditional values appeal to her. 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.
A Discussion Worth Having
Larry: The Pill’s liberated women. Sex is no longer a dangerous pleasure. They 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. 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.
Can a Happy for Now Ending Be a True Romance?
Larry is Clare’s friend, yes. But slowly, he begins to be something else. Something much more meaningful.
Yet Clare is not a woman to be taken lightly. She now 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
At the end of A Violation, Charlotte Lamb leaves Clare and Larry’s status ambiguous. There is no definitive yes to marriage. Even so, that’s okay. Things are happy.
For, oddly enough, the frightening, life-altering experience Clare has gone through enabled her to find her true self. And in knowing herself, Clare knows what she wants in a lifetime partnership.
To be equals to a man, yet complementary; two pieces of one whole part.
A Violation is not a book I “enjoyed” experiencing. It was uncomfortable, yet also invigorating. It succeeds as a story of a woman’s self-discovery. As a romance, I’m not sure where it fits.
If you can handle the sensitive subject matter, I think it’s worth a read.