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Running Grave, Part Five: A Ring Reading
The Center of the Nine Parts, the Story Turn of Strike7?
It’s been more than a week since Running Grave was published and we’ve reached the half-way point in my reading of Strike7 as a serialized Dickens novel of nine individual Parts. To my surprise (and delight), I still have not been spoiled, which is to say ‘I don’t know the ending,’ and each of the first four Parts I’ve read as well as the Prologue have conformed for the most part with traditional writing; each has had an identifiable latch of beginning and end chapters, a story-turn that echoes beginning and points to the end, and chapters or chapter bundles that mirror one another across the axis of turn and latch. I have been reading one Part each night after I finish writing up the previous Part’s ring notes and stray thoughts, then charting the Part I’ve just read, then taking a look at it to see if the ring pieces are visible. With a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on that I go to bed with the prayer that the structure will be obvious in the morning.
Yesterday was rough sledding on Part Four, but fun, I admit, before I figured out how the ring worked (break up the single four chapter bundle). Part Five was a lot more straight-forward, if it, too, required a bit of chapter juggling. In this post, I’ll be laying out Part Five’s latch, turns (plural!), and turtle-back lines, and, because we’re half-way home, taking a look at the echoes with Part One and pointers to what may be coming in Part Nine, the finale.
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The Latch: Part Five begins and ends with two chapters each, both with Rowena-Robin at Chapman Farm. We learn before Robin heads out to Norwich to sell turtles and shake a tin cup to raise money that we’re in the season of the Drowned Prophet and Vivienne reports that Jonathan Wace will be coming back from LA for the Manifestation. The closing chapter ends with a Daiyu preliminary Manifestation and the Countdown to Manifestation with all-night vigils on the Temple stairs mean that Robin will not be able to sneak off the property. Wace does return as promised — and at the opening of that last chapter makes threatening remarks to our undercover heroine…
The big-connection of the latch, though, are the two chapters, 66 and 76, in which Robin talks to two brainwashed cult members, Emily Pirbright and Will Edensor. Both are totally captive to the UHC’s group-think and mental jargon — and, more to the point, each one is struggling to break free from it because of the love they have felt for others, contrary to cult beliefs and practice, in exclusive ‘carnal relationships,’ or ‘CR,’ the sin of material possessiveness. This love has created cracks in the cult’s grip on their minds, fissures that Robin works very hard to expand more or less successfully.
Part Five has a really strong latch, in other words.
The Turn: Part Five is thirteen chapters long which makes the natural turn chapter 71 because it has six chapters before it and six chapters after it. It was only after seeing how the transverse or turtle-back lines work in Part Five that I could see how the turn worked. I’ll discuss those in a minute, but, in brief, chapters 67 and 75, both Strike chapters were a clear match or echo and chapters 68 and 69, each with Robin having private time with a Mace, Jaing and Jonathan respectively. That left chapters 70, 71, and 72 at the top of the ring diagram where the turn should be.
The trick is that 70 is a Strike chapter and 71-72 are Robin chapters which bleed directly to 73-74 (not a miscarriage reference, believe me). In a perfect ring, as noted, 71 would be the turn and 70 and 72 would make a turtle-back line connection. But they don’t.
My solution to this problem came from the reflection that the turn in Part Five, the central Part of the nine Part book, was simultaneously a pivot for the thirteen chapter set-ring and for Running Graves as a whole. One will resonate with the Part Five latch, its beginning and end, and the other with the substance of Part One and Part Nine. We have the Part Five latch and have charted Part One already so the Part Five turn should be detectible via a process of deduction.
The ‘meaning in the middle’ and story axis of Part One are the UHC Rupert Court Temple services Robin attends, services led by Jonathan and Jaing Wace, and the baptism reception at which Strike meets Belinda ‘Bijou’ Watkins. Review my first post in this series of Ring Readings for much more on that. The key paragraph in it with respect to Part Five?
If [Part One] is the beginning that will be reflected in Part Five, the story turn, and Part Nine, the story latch-hook, I’d bet that [Robin] is outed in Five and escapes [Chapman Farm] in Nine. The opening chapter’s picture of Strike with an unwanted baby and his execution of Charlotte in the next-to-last chapter point to the death of a super-model aren’t encouraging, either; here’s hoping it isn’t his actually murdering his old flame because of what she did to Robin-Rowena and that the baby at the finale isn’t the love-child of his Part One trysts with Buxom Belinda. His impudent imprudence, structure says, will at last have consequences?
Charlotte checked out in Part Four which checked that box. Robin has definitely (?) been revealed as a danger to the UHC by the end of Part Five. What sign do we have that Bijou is going to gift Cormoran with an unwanted child, a baby conceived in their two trysts in Part One?
Chapter 70 is this story-turn, the link joining the baby thread of the opening chapter of the book and whatever the finale is, because in 70 Strike meets with Bijou who announces she needs his help. Surprise! She’s pregnant. She claims it cannot be his baby — oh, the echoes of Charlotte’s pregnancy and miscarriage in Cuckoo’s Calling — and only wants his help with QC Humbold, who thinks the vixen has hired Strike to bug his office. Chapter 70 is the novel story-turn that connects with Running Graves’ opening chapter and its consequent Belinda meetings.
Chapters 71 and 72 also resonate with Part One’s latch, albeit more with its ending. In the last chapter of Part One, Robin attends a UHC service in which Taio, Becca, Dr Zhou, and a celebrity cover are all featured. All of them make appearances in chapters 71 and 72 — and Robin makes her first personal contact with Will Edensor, the person she contracted to try and rescue in Part One’s chapter 4. The nightmare of Lin’s mugwort induced miscarriage after Robin has this contact with Will in the kitchen, because of Will’s relationship with Lin (cf. Part Two, chapter 36), is the foundation of her talk with him in the Part Five penultimate chapter’s Retreat Room dialogue. These two chapters, then, tie up with the closing chapter parts of the Part One and Part Five latch.
Part Five’s two story turns, then, echo Part One, and, we may assume per ring formula, point to what will happen in the end, Part Nine. Lin’s miscarriage in chapters 71 and 72 doesn’t suggest a happy ending for Bijou’s child.
The Turtleback Lines: As mentioned, the chapter parallels across the story axis are relatively obvious in Part Five.
Chapters 67 and 75: Part Five is really Robin-focused. Of its thirteen chapters, ten are her adventures with the UHC cultists. Two of the three Strike chapters face one another across the story axis and share much of the same material. Each begins, for example, with Strike reviewing Robin’s latest drop under the plastic rock at the Farm’s perimeter. Bijou gets a mention, too, in each; Strike reads about her, Humbold, and himself in The Times in one and in the other Midge throws his “shagging the lawyer with fake tits” at him during an argument about her dalliances with a client. Best of the lot, Shah gifts Strike with pictures of the lady in black who confronted him at the turn of Part Four; Clive Littlejohn confirms that she is a Paterson agent, reveals her name (‘Farah Navabi,’ Persian, I’d bet, based on Rowling’s twitter focus during the writing of this book), and, oh, boy, drops that she was the one who bugged Humbold’s office.
Chapters 68-69 and 73-74: In the opening chapter and closing chapter of these parallel sets, 68 and 74, Robin evaluates her situation to decide if she should stay at the Farm or flee. In both she decides to stay, of course, but her targets have shifted. In the first, she elects to stay in the hope that she could talk more with Emily, make contact with Will, and find the axe in the tree; in the close across the axis, she only wants to talk with Will, with whom she made contact at the turn. From what we learn from Will in the Retreat Room about ‘the Box,’ Robin made a mistake in not electing to leave and is headed for some solitary confinement.
The much longer chapters in these parallel sets, though, are Robin’s conversation with Jaing Wace in the Forest while searching for Mazu’s mother of pearl fish pendant and her meeting with Jonathan Wace in his office consequent to Lin’s miscarriage in the women’s dormitory. The Jaing bit is very productive as she flatters him into an information dump of his various secrets; she learns where the axe is hidden and who hid it, Papa J’s relation with Becca (we’re in Mormon history country here! Can you say, “Study in Scarlet”? Go ahead!), another Jacob Messenger clue I don’t get, and, best of all, his claim that he has recognized someone who was at the Farm a long time ago and come back (the only person old enough to qualify in Robin’s retreat group would be Walter, the retired professor; is he undercover as well?). Jaing is forbidden to use the Retreat Room because of Jacob, so Robin is not approached for spirit bonding.
In contrast, the time with Papa J reveals very little in the way of cult secrets except confirmation in the end that this Wace has had two wedding-wives, at least one spirit-wife, and God knows how many increased women spirit-bondings. He tags her with the pet name ‘Artemis’ which Robin realizes serves both to flatter and to destabilize her (Who am I? Artemis? This man’s understanding rather than my own?) and reviews almost every detail of her time at the Farm. His is the upside-down version of Robin’s time with Jaing; he tells her nothing, screws with her mind, and in the end sexually molests her, only being saved by the ex machina entrance of Becca and Mazu.
The Meaning in the Middle: Having discussed the ring elements and correspondents between Running Grave’s Parts above, let’s pause for a second at the central chapter of the central Part of Strike7 and ask if the author has included a pointer to the solution to the nightmare situations Robin and Strike find themselves in. Robin is in the grips of a misogynist dystopia in which the women are sex toys, slave labor, or both, all with a spiritual-beyond-religious veneer that masks the madness. She is in danger of losing her mind and her life if she doesn’t get out.
Strike obviously is in a better spot as he enjoys his liberties to go where he wants and to do what he likes with whom he chooses. He is in a transition, however, from “material possessiveness,” an antipathy to anything not tangible or measurable, to authentic “spirit bonding,” love that is selfless and sacrificial rather than strictly sexual or social. He has “admitted the possibility” of this “something new” in his life but is clueless about where to begin to make it part of his life. The Universal Humanitarian Church isn’t making him think that organized religion is going to help him find the truth at the center of the cross he admits to finding meaningful.
The pivot or joint of Part Five, as noted, is chapter 71, the seventh of the thirteen chapters, and the center of the center Part of Strike7. In it, Rowling does something she has not done anywhere else in the book, I think. Almost every part of Part Five turns on the truth and our ability to grasp and live in communion with it. Chapter 71, if I’m reading the center piece of Rowling’s rings within rings correctly, points to the best sources for truth seeking and a fully human life.
Chapter 66, the second piece of the Part Five opening, features Robin’s conversation with Emily Pirbright, who is attempting to escape from the UHC but finds herself paralyzed by her self-constricting beliefs, ideas that the cult has drummed into her head (the killer is that those who are spiritually advanced will die on contact with the materialist, outside world, the Stolen Prophet’s primary teaching). She tells Rowena-Robin that she wants more than anything else to “scream the truth” but cannot because she has been taught in The Answer that no one knows the truth except the “Blessed Divinity.” Robin cuts through this cant with the clear statements, “It’s not all opinions or memories. There is truth” (508).
Robin is confronted by an older woman from her retreat group in chapter 76’s laundry room scene. Marion Huxley yells nonsensical accusations at Rowena and then spits in her face before she can respond. “Robin knew she was looking into the face of fanaticism. Something rigid and alien lived beneath the skin of the human being facing her, something that couldn’t be argued with…. They’re all mad. They’re fucking mad” (570). She realizes her only hope of getting through to Will Edensor who is nearby is to get him in private; she invites him to spirit bond with her, which requires a trip to the Retreat Room. She truth-bombs him there with his contradictory beliefs and behaviors, especially with respect to Lin, Qing, and his mother. He punches Robin when she hits him with the news that his mother, whom he believes to be alive and well despite his father’s notes to the contrary, had died in January.
Robin has confidence that her logical attack on Will might be successful after noting that Marion’s fanaticism was unreachable because of what he had said and done in chapter 71’s kitchen scene. The kitchen scene that Will’s being “stuck at step six” of the UHC ladder to achieve Pure Spirit is that he continues to question and seek.Robin enters the kitchen, sees Will cutting onions, and quickly goes to help him.
She chats a bit with him to draw him out and mentions that “Daiyu came to the temple” during her Revelation session and “made the stage tip up.” To flatter him and demonstrate he is listening to her (see how she made Jaing tell her everything in chapter 69), she explains, “I know I deserved it,” said Robin, “so I suppose I should be glad it happened. It’s like you said to me on the vegetable patch, there’s no ‘in trouble,’ is there? It’s all strengthening” (541).
Will is silent for a moment and then answers her question with questions of his own: “Have you been in the library yet?” and then “Have you read the Bible?” And then we get his response to her saying to him what he had taught her about “It’s all good,” the UHC ‘embrace everything’ line a la the Nietzschean “there is no good and evil.”
“I was reading [the Bible] yesterday. John, chapter one, verse 4:1: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (542). Robin “thought he looked worried.”
I’ve been reading Running Grave so quickly (ha!) that I cannot say with any surety that this is the first bit of Christian scripture that has been quoted, but if not the first then among the first. It’s curious for more than one reason.
First, this is not “John, chapter one.” That’s the Prologue to the Gospel of St John, perhaps the single most important chapter of the New Testament (it’s beginning is the Gospel reading at the Divine Liturgy in Orthodox Christian Churches on Pascha, the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection). That mistake is evident from the way he cites the passage, “4:1.” Stephanus numbers divide each book of the Bible into chapter and verse numbers; “John, chapter one” in this system would be followed by a single number for the verse, “John, chapter one, verse five,” say, or just as “John, 1:5.” “John, chapter one, verse 4:1” is an open gaffe I assume has already been catalogued over on the Running Grave gaffes thread at HogwartsProfessor.com.
Whose gaffe is it? Well, it could be Will’s mistake; I don’t think he grew up in a family that considered Bible study a priority. Rather than assume Rowling or her editors (she has an editor, right?) missed this, let’s take it as a pointer to how Will found an important truth during his Bible study time on the Farm (when does anybody have a chance to go to the library?) but he doesn’t really know his way around Christian scripture. He proof texts brilliantly from The Answer, with chapter and paragraph citations as often as not, but he has a lot of work to do to get his Bible bullets down. (If you wanted to be really charitable, you’d pass over the mistake with the explanation that Rowling is encouraging her readers by the obvious error to look up “John, chapter one,” the heart of Coleridgean Logosophia and English imaginative fiction.)
To the point, though, the passage Will quotes is from the First Epistle of St John not the Gospel According to St John; it’s chapter four, verse 1, usually represented as 1 John 4:1. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Will is preaching rank heresy to the UHC multi-cultural pan-ecumenist faith by citing this passage, especially if it is read as instruction to Robin not to take the UHC position he taught her as true but the teaching of a “false prophet.” How do you say “apostacy”?
Before Robin can respond to this bombshell, the first sign that Will heard what she was saying in the garden about Qing’s future as a UHC cult member, celebrity actress Noli Seymour arrives in the kitchen to play the part of the down-home just-folks UHC worker in the trenches. Will is clearly in a rebellious, righteous mood and has no patience for this Principal of the Church pretender. He repeatedly corrects her about her use of taboo words like “parents” without looking at her and asks about a ‘Drowned Prophet’ film project.
She goes off on a rave about Papa J but Will is having none of it. “D’you think it’s strange,” said Will, still dicing onions, “that Papa J married twice and nobody in the church is supposed to marry?” (544). Noli brushes this aside, explaining that it’s a “Higher Level Truth” and that Mazu and Papa J are “not the same” as other people; “They’re our parents — all of our parents.” Will, of course, calls her on the taboo word again, dismissing her as something of an idiot.
When she protests, he asks her a question.
“Have you read the Bhagavad Gita?”
“Yes, of course,” said Noli, clearly lying.
“Lord Krishna talks about people of demonic nature. ‘Self-conceited, stubborn, intoxicated by pride in wealth, they perform sacrifice in name only, with ostentation’.”
“Ohmigod, there are so many people in acting like that,” said Noli. “The last show I did —” (544)
That’s chapter 16, verse 17, of the Gita by the way. It is quoted in such a way that it sounds like a call to be humble and selfless in public worship. It’s actually a call to conformity with traditional or orthodox religious practice when the verse is given in its entirety. It’s proper ending is “with ostentation contrary to scriptural ordinance,” “in utter disregard of precepts,” “with no regard to the rules of scripture,” “not according to the injunctions of the Sastras.” Maybe Will knows that (or Rowling for that matter) but here it is meant just as a slap in the face to Noli, an insult that goes right over her head.
Like Noli, I have not read or studied the Bhagavad Gita. Chapter 16, though, according to the Wikipedia entry, is perhaps the one recommended to High Level UHC readers without the time to read all 700 couplets (Mohandas Gandhi had the Gita by heart, it and the Sermon on the Mount).
Translators title [chapter 16] as Daivasura–Sampad–Vibhaga yoga, The Separateness of the Divine and Undivine, Two Paths, or The Yoga of the Division between the Divine and the Demonic. According to Easwaran, this is an unusual chapter where two types of human nature are expounded, one leading to happiness and the other to suffering. Krishna identifies these human traits to be divine and demonic respectively. He states that truthfulness, self-restraint, sincerity, love for others, desire to serve others, being detached, avoiding anger, avoiding harm to all living creatures, fairness, compassion and patience are marks of the divine nature. The opposite of these are demonic, such as cruelty, conceit, hypocrisy and being inhumane, states Krishna. Some of the verses in Chapter 16 may be polemics directed against competing Indian religions, according to Basham. The competing tradition may be the materialists (Charvaka), states Fowler.
Given that Will has twice called out Noli for “material possessiveness,” this quotation may just be an extra layer for that critique.
We only learn in the next-to-last chapter of Part Five that Will paid for this effrontery. When Robin in the Retreat Room brings up what he said to her and to Noli in the kitchen, he responds, “Forget that! That’s why I had to go in the box. I shouldn’t have said it. If you’re going to talk about that, I’m leaving” (572). She uses that opening, though, to confront him with his contradictory behavior and hypocrisy, what he did to Noli, and, when he learns about his “flesh object” mother’s death, he cracks, “material possessiveness” be damned. That night he heads to the farmhouse and doesn’t stop at the fountain for a Drowned Prophet blessing.
All of which is to say that, as repugnant as Rowling-Galbraith makes the UHC and perhaps to non-believers all organized religion, the central chapter of the central Part of Running Grave features a seeker speaking the truth, “not a memory or opinion” but the truth in the language of revelation, the scriptural kind of revelation rather than the peer-attack brain-washing session type. This with Strike’s “admitting the possibility” and confessing the importance of the cross to him suggests strongly that the message of Strike7 is about the brain-washing of the prevalent narratives of today rather than odious religious dogmatism and cults.
Quoting the Evangelist of Love and the Gita, and especially these passages, suggests that there are true prophets as well as false prophets, authentic divines as well as demonic people. Robin’s cry to Will in the Retreat Room, her call for him to snap out of it and recognize his love for Qing, Lin, and Sally are greater truths than the UHC ideology. “So you’ve voluntarily brain-washed yourself?” is the invitation of a CBT seeker to all her readers to look at our beliefs and to test them against the realities of love in our experience and our hearts. And perhaps to “admit the possibility” that the revealed paths to be found in traditional faiths may contain better, more truthful beliefs than the ones we have as “bubble persons” and “materialist” cultists with our unexamined postmodern narratives.
Conclusions: I loved Part Five and have had a hard time writing up these ring notes and first thoughts before heading on to Part Six. Thank you to everyone who is reading these structural studies in Rowling’s latest work; as much effort as it is taking me to diagram each part, it’s been a lot of fun to march through the text as if each Part was only being delivered after I’ve had the chance to savor for a day Rowling’s artistry in assembling this remarkable tapestry of a book, whose meaning or message, I think, is hiding in the story scaffolding.
I am obliged to say that, as in every previous Strike novel reading, I haven’t found the bad guy in the middle. I just don’t see where in Part Five Rowling-Galbraith has revealed the killer. I keep thinking of how Donald Laing was concealed as Ray Williams in the center of Career of Evil and Janice Beattie as a social worker on the phone in Troubled Blood; the killer of Allie Grave, of Daiyu, of Jennifer Wace, of Kevin Pirbright has to be in Part Five somewhere, doesn’t he or she? Which is assuming, of course, that it can’t just be Jonathan Wace or Mazu because they’re so obviously villainous. I’m afraid I’m blinded in this search by my hope that it is the Delaunays, who were hidden in the last chapter chiasmus of Part Four.
See you tomorrow, God willing, with notes on Part Six!
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