Note: This blog post contains a spoiler about a plot point in Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s crime novel Career of Evil.
I think one of the most important things a writer can do is show the reader something of the reader’s self on the page. To speak a truth, to acknowledge a hurt, to hold up a mirror in which a reader can see one’s own reflection and confront it, bravely and unblinkingly. And through this showing, this acknowledgment, this reflection, the reader begins to accept something about herself, to appreciate, to come to terms. Not every writer can do this, and not every writer can do this for every reader. But sometimes, a particular topic or experience, written with care and concern, can touch a reader’s heart like nothing else can.
I recently finished reading Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter universe. This is book three of an ongoing series, and in this book, and the two preceding volumes, a likable and beautifully realized main character has a secret. Passing reference is made in the first two books to the fact that this character, Robin Ellacott, had a life-changing experience at the age of nineteen. Career of Evil reveals that Robin is a rape survivor.
J.K. Rowling writes about rape in a very straightforward way. There is no melodrama, no unnecessary glorification or gratuitousness. She writes with compassion and zero judgment for the victim. It is beautiful. And her depiction of the emotional aftermath is so understanding, so perfectly rendered, that it feels like a vindication and a legitimization of everything such a deeply personal violation makes one think and feel and believe-about herself-and others. More than any other experience or conversation I have had as a survivor of sexual assault, J.K. Rowling’s brief and simple treatment of this topic has made me feel that I am okay and that my reaction to my own experience is okay, too. That’s an incredibly powerful thing for a book to do. And it’s a powerful thing for a writer to do. To reach out, through words on a page, and touch the heart and mind of a person she has never met, and make a reader feel that she is not alone, that she is believed, and that she matters. J.K. Rowling may have written imaginatively and wonderfully about a fictitious world of magic, but her writing is its own kind of magic, and I am filled with awe at her talent, and gratitude for her compassion.