However, before I provide my review ( and when I say review I will tell you all whether I liked the novel or not and then get into some serious talk of my interview with the author) here is the blurb of what THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS is actually about:
At Windemere School for Girls, one of America’s elite private schools, Dr. Gregory Copeland is the beloved chair of the English Department. A married father with a penchant for romantic poetry—and impressionable teenage girls—he operates in plain sight for years, until one of his former students goes public with allegations of inappropriate conduct. With the help of an investigative journalist, and two additional Windemere alumnae who had relationships with Copeland as students, the unlikely quartet unites to take him down.
Set in modern-day Los Angeles, These Violent Delights is a literary exploration of the unyielding pressures and vulnerabilities that so many women and girls experience, and analyzes the ways in which our institutions and families fail to protect or defend us. A suspenseful and nuanced story told from multiple points of view, the novel examines themes of sexuality, trauma, revenge, and the American myth of liberty and justice for all.
Now what did I think of it? Well as soon as I picked the book up and read it, I could not stop, because not only was it riveting but it appealed to me as a woman, feminist and blogger. Centering around the themes of sexual abuse/assault via misconduct ( teacher’s abuse of power over a few teenage students) THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS will make you reflect on how these experiences of being taken advantaged of and sexually assaulted/rape impacts on the psyche of those who are victims, and how they go through their life journeys in a bid to survive and keep some semblance of normality in their lives. This is not always possible and the blending of the differing experiences of the characters and how they coped with their trauma will make you think about the importance of talking about sexual abuse and not demonising it as a taboo topic for discussion.
I had the opportunity to interview the author VICTORIA NAMKUNG, and the reason why I wanted to interview her was because I wanted to understand where she got the strength and energy to write on such a hard topic. In addition I wanted to share with her my own personal experiences of being sexually assaulted and raped – the first time when I lost my virginity at 16 and the second time when I was living abroad in China for a year, and from there I could sense her compassion and how this novel and the stories she shared came from a personal place. In my opinion we bonded and in addition to the interview we shared our own stories and this to me was very important.
To end my rant ( because I know I can go for quite a long time), here are some of the interview questions which I asked Namkung, which explored not the what, but more the why she wrote this powerful novel:
THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS revolves around extremely sensitive and contentious issues of abuse of power, sexual abuse, assault, rape and the aftermath. The mainstream considers this controversial. What have some of the reactions been to the premise of the novel?
The word uncomfortable comes up a lot, and a lot of people say that they felt uncomfortable reading the novel. But you know what? That is actually a good thing and when you read it, you need to push beyond your limits to truly understand its premise and essence. Personally, it was uncomfortable for me to write it, and I felt uncomfortable whilst researching for the novel. Speaking to victims of sexual abuse/assault/rape, reading about it and hearing about it really pushed me to write the best novel that I could. Many people have said that it reads like a true crime novel, and I wanted to write something which made a point but was still easy to digest.
The whole topic of teenage sexuality is always difficult to talk about. The age of consent varies from state to state. We were all teenagers once – we know that teenagers like sex, have hormones and had crushes on teachers – this all happened and is normal, but what is not normal is predators ( in this case teachers) taking advantage of that fact.
The story is about an esteemed and well respected teacher/member of a community having sexual indiscretions with some of his students who are underage, basically abusing his power over them. Was part of the intention of the book to bring attention to this – that paedophiles and predators comes in all shapes, sizes and statuses and not just want most people expect to be one?
Yes, 100%. I think there are two parts to this answer. In the book the teacher is not some hunky guy and what the mainstream media depicts a predatory male teacher to be. In actual fact the character in my book is an overweight teacher who is not remarkable and definitely not your typical hot guy. Most of the mainstream TV use the whole “tortured lovers” type scenario, and I wanted to show that it is possible for unattractive older men who have nothing in common with 15 year old girls, to be a predator and one who knows this and knows what to do to gain the trust of teenage girls.
The protagonist CARYN (in my novel) shows that victims of sexual abuse/assault/rape come from all types of socio economical backgrounds, cultural and religious backgrounds. I also wanted to show how difficult it is for women to come out in public or to their family and friends about these experiences. In the US it is estimated that 15 cases of sexual abuse/ assault/rapes by educators per week are reported and these are the ones which are coming out. Most victims do not come forward and a lot of the times this has to do with the consequences and preconceived issues which may arise from it. I wanted to show that this is a real issue and comes in all shapes, forms and structures.
I felt you presented very well the complexities of the aftermath of sexual abuse/rape and that women all react differently to this in terms of their life choices. I would love some comments on this.
Definitely! It is dangerous when you as an author talk about such a sensitive and contentious issue because not everyone who experiences sexual abuse/assault/rape will go through the problems and aftermath that the characters in my novel goes through. I knew I had to do extensive research prior to writing this novel and having been a journalist for 20 years, I did a lot of due diligence in preparation for this. I spoke to a number of victims, sexual abuse experts, experts from Stanford etc to find out how people generally deal with these issues and experiences. Issues such as eating disorders, substance abuse etc is not an isolated with victims of sexual abuse. Sadly suicide rates are also higher. I didn’t want to paint this picture that all sexual abuse victims will all have a bad life because this is not true – many still thrive in life.
Personally, I have lost multiple friends to suicide and these feelings never go away. Some people said that I am painting everyone who has been sexually abused as a victim. One woman even said they should be called survivors. Where I agree with that I also recognise that in case law it is still considered a victim. I kept true to this to not diminish the fact that sexual abuse/assault and rape are crimes and needs to be treated as such.
Did any of the themes presented in the novel reflect any aspect of your own experiences or from others that you know? Reading it, I got the feel that this is personal for you.
Yes. I have spoken publicly about this in promotion of the book. I have never had a teacher sexually abuse me, but I did have an experience with my swimming coach when I was 14 years old. I was a state swimmer and he was around 25 years old. He asked me to sit on his lap when I still had my bathing suit on and told me that if I did it he would treat me more favourably to be on certain teams etc.
When I started writing this book, I didn’t think about what happened to me. Instead I thought of others like my own friends and acquaintances, and it all started to come back to me and I was enraged in what I was able to remember. I am 40 years old now and this all happened when I was 14. Back then the climate around dealing with these issues is different. I knew that if I came forward there would be more damage coming to me and him than anything else.
The character of SASHA deals with a serious amount of abuse with her teacher and for her the outcome is horrible. Personally, I do know people who have suffered so much trauma in youth because of being sexually abused and it is hard to get out of it in adulthood.
My final thoughts? Well, go and get a copy of THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS. It is really a worthwhile read.