In thriller writing, violence against women manages to be both disturbing and boring at the same time. But a new prize promises to reward authors who do things differentlyby Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett / January 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
I mostly stopped reading thrillers about four years ago. It was Becky Masterman’s Rage Against the Dying that did it. It got under my skin to such an extent that I began to have nightmares filled with graphic images of rape, torture and mutilation. Psychologically, the prospect of it happening to me became a case not of if, but when. As I wrote in the Guardian at the time: “My reaction was certainly symptomatic of the kind of paranoid, hyper-aware symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (I was violently attacked in 2010).”
In other words, perhaps I was the problem. I understood that millions of readers, mostly women, read and enjoy these books, and speculated a little as to why that might be. To my mind, it was partly a case of acquainting oneself with a very real threat. A survival impulse. A case of “show me what I’m dealing with, here, so it doesn’t happen to me.” Furthermore, we are used to seeing women cast as victims of sexual crimes; it happens to us in real life, after all, disproportionately so. So arguably these books reflect the world we live in.
But personally, I’d had just about a bellyful. I found the violence in thrillers disturbing, but it was also lurid and repetitive—rather boring in other words. So I put this genre to one side, mostly, though I was not immune to the hype regarding the conditions of various “girls” (The Girl on the Train, The Girl Before, etc).
It was with an amused smile, then, that I noted the launch of the Staunch Book Prize, to be awarded to the author of a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered. “As violence against women in fiction reaches a ridiculous high,” reads the blurb, “The Staunch Book Prize invites thriller writers to keep us on the edge of our seats without resorting to the same old clichés—particularly female characters who are sexually assaulted (however ‘necessary to the plot’), or done away with (however ingeniously).” This is accompanied on the website by a series of short video clips showing especially unoriginal examples—a dog walker finding a woman’s body, a man slipping a pill into his date’s drink, a woman being pursued down a dark alley. Tropes we’ve seen a thousand times.