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Staunch in The Washington Post

By 9th December 2018 No Comments

By Ron Charles

Sexualized Gore  

How many women do you have to murder to write a bestselling thriller? That question has haunted the genre for decades as the bodies continue to pile up. Critics have rightly called out these alarming expressions of misogyny, but the femme morte has remained as central to popular fiction as the femme fatale. This week, a new literary contest pushed back against the red tide: The Staunch Prize recognizes the best thriller “in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.” Founded by British screenwriter Bridget Lawless, the prize hopes “to make space for an alternative to the overload of violence towards women in fiction.” On Monday in London, the inaugural Staunch Prize (about $2,500) went to Australian novelist Jock Serong for his thriller “On the Java Ridge,” about a group of refugees at sea trying to reach the Australian shore. (It’s a grim comment on American publishing that this apparently exciting and relevant novel can’t find a U.S. publisher….) Meanwhile, the Staunch Prize may get snuffed out like a pretty woman in “American Psycho.” Bestsellers Sophie Hannah and Val McDermid have publicly objected to the prize for turning a blind eye to the problem of violence against women. Serong tells me, “I can see Val’s point: Violence against women is an epidemic that cuts across affluence, geography, everything. So as I understand her, she asks why would you encourage writing that doesn’t hold a mirror up to this? The answer, I think, is that the award is aimed at something slightly different: It’s addressing that laziness that creeps in, the tropes where women and girls are used unthinkingly as default victims in the story. My novel ‘On the Java Ridge’ certainly doesn’t shirk violence, but I’ve tried to think very hard about where that violence is directed and whom it affects.”