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.
Why I write what I write is very simple in essence. I write what I write because no-one else writes it. And I want to read what I write. I wanted to read a story about a female freelance assassin, someone who enjoys her job without being a freak, pervert or weirdo. Someone whose view of the world is bleak enough to do the job without remorse, but not so bleak as to make her bitter. With a heart cold enough to make dispassionate decisions, but still warm enough to trust and love someone who accepts her for who she is.
In stories, whether books or movies, hired killers, in any shape or form, are mostly perverted weirdos, as if killing in exchange for money debases someone more than killing for God and Country. A soldier can justify his actions, as he is ordered by his superiors to kill ‘the enemy’. A mercenary can be ethical, following certain ideals in joining an army that fights for what he thinks is right. But a freelance assassin is a realist, someone who accepts the responsibility of taking a life without justification, for there can be no justification for the taking of a life. Reasons, sure. There are always plenty of reasons to kill another human being, but rarely a justifiable reason. But then, isn’t justification just another illusion? Is there justice in this world? Are the evildoers punished and the righteous rewarded? Anyone who takes a good look around them knows better.
Katla is a realist, pur sang. She knows there are more reasons to kill other people than people to do the job. Do the job properly, that is. There are always ambitious punks who can be hired to kill for a nickel. As Creaux says in Reprobate: “The world is overrun by amateurs, but bereft of professionals.” If you have carefully built a company and your business partner is driving your company into the ground, and you know you cannot buy him out or talk sense into him, maybe it’s time to get a professional to do the job.
Katla is an expert in disguising homicide, which makes her a particular breed of assassin. Most professional killers want to remain detached from their targets, needing the distance to separate themselves from the act. Dispatch the target with the minimum amount of fuss. Use a suppressed semi-automatic Ruger .22 Mark II and shoot a dumdum into the base of the skull, with just enough power to enter, but not to exit the cranium, so the bullet will bounce around the dome of bone and shred the brains. Just a trickle of blood, maybe bulging eyes from the pressure in the head, caused by the gases that exited the barrel pressed against the entry wound. Clean and easy. Except that such a kill would send up a red flag at any law enforcement office. Warning: Professional At Work. Same goes with any kind of skilful applied violence. Whether you garrotte someone or bomb his car, if you cannot disguise the homicide, there will be an investigation. And since your client most likely stands to benefit from the death of your target, any criminal investigation is to be avoided. Unless the investigation clears your client, or rules the demise of your target accidental or self-induced.
Katla has the mind of a hunter and trapper. Not the kind of hunter who runs around the woods drunk with a bright orange vest to avoid getting shot by his equally drunk buddies who will use an elephant gun to shoot a squirrel. Katla studies her targets like a dedicated hunter tracks his prey, like a trapper finds the places to position his snare. Stalking her target and constructing the perfect strategy towards the demise is as much an intellectual endeavour as a physical challenge, demanding both acumen and stamina. To become the perfect assassin requires a study both of human nature and human biology, its inherent flaws and how to put them to full advantage. With that pursuit of excellence taken into account, Katla’s fascination with her job make her choice of occupation not only understandable but even admirable, to an extent.
My own life has had its moments of violence, enough to make me realise that violence lurks in pretty much everyone, although the veneer of civility may have more substance on some people than others. To the outside world, Katla seems more than composed, she has an almost Zen-like attitude towards life, but it’s rooted less spirituality than reality. Katla knows how fragile life is and how easily destroyed, which makes her appreciate her own life and that of her loved ones. Fate is fickle and the wrong circumstances or timing can extinguish any life prematurely, so celebrate the life you have today and don’t live in the future life you might never receive. To be aware of the present is the greatest gift.
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…