Reprobate – A Katla Novel was reviewed by Hannah Thompson, on her blog ‘Blind Spot’.
Hannah’s blog is about blindness and its representation. It asks how the blind and the partially blind relate to the sighted and the partially sighted. It mostly focuses on representations of blindness from the nineteenth century to the present day, in English and French culture and society. It also maps the place of a partially-blind academic in a resolutely sighted world.
Hannah Thompson is a senior lecturer in French at Royal Holloway’s School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures – her next book Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France will be published by Legenda in June 2013. Follow her on Twitter @BlindSpotHannah.
Hannah has been blogging since February 2012, but her blog is already listed in the Top 100 Special Education Resources on the Web and listed in the Top 10 UK Disability Blogs.
Hannah’s review of Reprobate is reproduced below:
Blindness in Fiction 4: Reprobate: A Katla Novel
It is notoriously difficult for non-blind writers to depict blind characters in fiction. Although anyone can close their eyes and imagine blindness for a few minutes, living in a world where sight has lost its meaning is incredibly hard to imagine. For this reason, blind characters in fiction are relatively rare. Where they do exist, they are either secondary and therefore always described from someone else’s point of view (as in Adrian Mole) or evil and not described sympathetically at all (as in Ratburger). Like Star Gazing which I blogged about last April, Reprobate is a novel of shared viewpoints, in which a blind character, Bram, plays a crucial role.
When the reader first encounters Bram, it is easy to mistakenly think that he is nothing but a fascinating plot device. We initially encounter him just after assassin Katla has finished a job. When he interrupts her as she is cleaning up the crime scene, her first instinct is to kill him, as she normally would an ‘additional’ who might later be able to place her at the scene. But when Katla realises Bram is blind she decides to spare him. Her reasoning is that he poses no threat to her because he will never be able to make a positive identification of her.
Katla, like most sighted people, imagines at first that a world without sight is a world of darkness and confusion. But Bram is not the kind of passive, low-functioning blind person who is frequently found in fictional representations. Unlike the blind man in Amelie, for example, he is always well aware of his environment. He picks up clues from the sounds, smells and atmospheric conditions he senses and is never described as having a lesser experience of life because of his blindness. This is wonderfully demonstrated in the scenes, such as the episode in the diner at the beginning of the ‘Luncheonette’ chapter, which are told through his perspective. In these scenes, the author focuses only on what Bram can hear, touch and sense. But the reader nonetheless gains a complete understanding of the scene. In fact until you look closely at the language of the scene, you probably won’t even notice the absence of visual clues. Bram’s presence in the novel, and the part he takes in its narration, brilliantly shows that sight is not essential to a full and happy existence. Bram is clever, funny, sexy and sporty. In fact very soon the story becomes so gripping that the fact of his blindness would easily be forgotten if it weren’t for the detail with which the narrator describes the practicalities of his life.
If you want to know what it is like to be a blind person living in a sighted world, then you should read this book, especially if you enjoy complex and multi-layered thrillers with unexpected twists and a truly triumphant ending.
Reprobate has been favourably reviewed before, on Amazon and several websites/blogs, but never by a blind reviewer and critic of media representations of blind characters in fiction, so I’m grateful to Hannah for taking the time to read Reprobate and write such a thoughtful review.
Please visit her blog, if you are interested in blindness and its representations.
Sample Sunday: Fragment from Peccadillo, work in progress, second novel in Amsterdam Assassin Series.Posted: November 4, 2012
This is a fragment from Peccadillo – A Katla Novel, the second novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, to be published before the 2012 Holiday Season.
Bram entered and sat on the rim of the bath, a glass of vodka dangling from his fingers. “What if he had a second set of documents?”
“I would’ve smudged my signature.” Katla plucked the glass from his fingers. “My move surprised him. I guess he expected me to be unnerved.”
Bram’s face became a mask, a sign he was too busy thinking to show outward emotion. Katla stretched her legs and drank the vodka, liquid fire burning deep in her throat. She put the glass on the rim and sank deeper in the bath, the hot water draining the tension from her legs.
The blind man’s face became animated again. “You’re sure they’re Chinese?”
“Quite sure,” Katla replied. “They didn’t look Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean to me. And I’ve met enough Chinese on my trips to Hong Kong.”
“I have a Chinese friend,” Bram spoke slowly. “If Lau belongs to a triad or a gang, there’s a chance Tsui Pak Yun might know where to find them. Or at least who they are.”
“How well do you know this ‘friend’?”
Bram pointed at his ruined eyes. “He belongs to the brotherhood.”
“Blindness is not an indication of reliability. You trust him?”
“I don’t know where his allegiance lies. He’s inscrutable that way.”
“How do you know he might be able to help?”
Bram pursed his lips. “One of my shiatsu patients is an influential Yakuza. Yun knew this and approached me to mediate in a ‘troublesome situation’, since I was in a position to sound out my patient to his willingness to put an end to the situation. Things worked out, so Yun is indebted to me.”
“But his allegiance may lie with a triad that’s affiliated with Lau.”
“If Lau is triad-affiliated.”
Katla placed the glass on the rim of the bath. “Lau was in command, but seemed to follow a strategy that wasn’t his.”
“Because he didn’t foresee your move?”
“Anyone can fail to anticipate the improbable, but a strategist would be interested by an unexpected development, not angry. Lau’s anger rendered him incapable of improvisation, which allowed me to seize the initiative.”
“So he’s not the sharpest crayon in the box.”
Katla grinned. “No, he’s not. And they overplayed their hand, which puts me at an advantage.”
“They’ll try again.”
“They lost the element of surprise, Bram. I’ll be even more on guard, from now on.”
The blind man picked up the empty glass and rose to his feet. She thought he would say something, but his face became mask-like again and he left the bathroom.
Katla floated in the bath, her gaze on the ceiling.
Bram reappeared. “Your Sphinx phone, can it be traced? Is it registered?”
“It’s a pre-paid, but if you have the number it can be triangulated if you have the equipment. They might not have tried that before, but they will probably try now. I switched it off, though. And removed the battery, to make sure.”
She watched Bram undress slowly and walk to the basin to brush his teeth. He disliked the buzzing sound of her electric brush, so he used a regular brush, even if that took longer. Katla studied his angular frame, the tips of his black hair brushing his bony shoulder blades, his muscular legs covered with fine dark hair.
She sat up in the bath. “Can you come over here?”
He halted at the rim and she caressed his legs with her soapy hands until his penis quivered. His stance widened as she slipped her hand between his legs and cupped his scrotum. With a wash cloth she cleaned his penis, stroked his erection until his breathing became ragged. She released him and rose to her feet. Bram took the brush from his mouth and she kissed some toothpaste from the corner of his mouth.
“Hand me a towel?”
He put the brush back and handed her a towel. She dried herself, kissed Bram and led him by his erection to the bedroom.
If you like this fragment from my work in progress, check my ‘About’ page for a link to Reprobate – A Katla Novel, the first novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. You can download a sample with the first few chapters for free from Amazon, or the whole novel (113,000 words or 380 pages) for only $5.99. If you follow my blog, you will be notified about the exact publication date of Peccadillo – A Katla Novel. And, of course, be able to read more fragments and snippets from the work in progress. If you’d like to become a beta reader for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at email@example.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.
What I’m looking for:
Beta reading means reading the beta [unedited] manuscript version and providing feedback to help me improve the manuscript before it gets published. Peccadillo is almost finished. When I’m done with it, the beta-readers can tear it apart and provide feedback. I will read the feedback and implement the necessary changes before publication.
Do I need to be a professional proofreader or editor?
Anyone who wishes to help me with this, please send me an email. Don’t worry about not being an editor or proofreader, what I require is mostly ‘emotional feedback’, i.e. what is your response to a scene – like/dislike, laugh, cry, vomit, anger, fear. I’m particularly interested in scenes people want to skip, because those are parts that I might want to edit out of the manuscript. And, of course, alerting me to any typo or omission will be most welcome. Also, while I enjoy feedback from fellow writers, you don’t need to be a writer to be a beta reader.
Shouldn’t I read Reprobate first?
No, preferably not. That doesn’t mean that having read the first book in the Amsterdam Assassin Series disqualifies you from beta-reading Peccadillo, but I’m interested if the sequel is sufficiently stand-alone that you can enjoy the novel without having read the first book.
How much time do I have to read the manuscript and provide feedback?
And the beta-reader has two weeks to read the manuscript [about 110K words] and another week to provide insightful feedback. *grin*
Will my feedback always be used?
Depends on the feedback. If you spot a typo, omission or error, it will be corrected (of course), but emotional responses differ from one individual to the next. Taste and cultural background colour the response, and while I aim to please, I have no illusions I will please everyone. So a scene that draws a yawn from one reader will probably remain unchanged, but if the whole audience starts yawning the scene has to be changed or even removed.
What kind of novel is Peccadillo?
The genre is suspense. Peccadillo is about a freelance assassin, Katla Sieltjes, whose legitimate business cover becomes the target of a hostile takeover by a Chinese gang. The novel has several story lines that intersect and circle around each other. My aim is to make all story lines equally interesting. Since Katla is no stranger to violence, the novel contains scenes with violence, sex, profanity, sarcasm, and other possibly objectionable actions. The setting of the story is Amsterdam, but might show a different side of the city than most readers would expect, since the author actually lives in Amsterdam.
What do I get out of it?
Well, first of all, you get to read Peccadillo before the general public and help an author with the publication process. You get to contribute to the shaping of a novel, and you’ll know the full content, instead of the edited content that will be published. (If you don’t know what I mean, compare the first version of Stephen King’s The Stand, and the unabridged version he published later). Your name will be included in the acknowledgements in the published version, which you will also receive. Plus, beta-readers who haven’t read Reprobate will receive a free e-book version
What do I need?
I only publish in digital e-book format, so you can receive the file in either Word, PDF, .epub or .mobi. So, I think an e-reader would be handy, but a computer would be mandatory.
I’m game, where do I sign up for this?
Send me an email at katlasieltjes (AT symbol) yahoo.com, put ‘Beta Reader’ in the subject line, and motivate your request to be beta reader with candid pictures or a list of your specialties. *grin*
Well, writing crime fiction is no picknick, especially if you try to stick as close as possible to reality and your protagonist is a free-lance assassin, but it got easier after I killed my first target and I’m still improving.
Apart from that I visited experts on the maintenance of saxophones, caring for macaws and repairing diesel engines; went to a shooting club to fire different handguns to get a feel for them; befriended hackers to explain to me how they scaled firewalls and extracted information from hospitals, police files and hotel registries; learned how to open locks with simple lockpicks; visited an institute for the blind, learned braille and walked around with my eyes taped shut for an entire day; smoked lots of doobie with Rastafarians; read countless books on obscure topics that might have a bearing on whatever I’m inclined to write about; befriended musicians so I could sit in on sessions; learned how to pick pockets; accompanied the police when they went to haul in a ‘water corpse’; rode motorcycles and Vespa motorscooters; and some other things I vowed to keep secret…