Not actually about that

Nick Cohen tells us that in addition to being crappy the latest attack on Rowling is wrong on the facts. He knows this because he’s actually read the novel they’re screaming about, because he has a review copy. It hasn’t even been released yet.

The hideous hashtag #RIPJKRowling was trending as trolls and their easily manipulated followers poured out their hatred. Rowling was a rat and a racist. She should ‘Sit Down and Shut the Fuck Up For The Rest of Time You Transphobic Bitch’. She wants trans people ‘to die’.

The ‘evidence’ that provoked the malice was so flimsy, even Twitter should have been embarrassed to publish it. Pink News, which dominates the LGBTQ+ outrage market, gave the case for the prosecution. According to the first review, ‘JK Rowling’s latest book is about a murderous cis man who dresses as a woman to kill his victims’, it announced

It is about nothing of the sort, I thought. And I could say that with authority because I had just finished a review copy of Troubled Blood, the fifth novel in Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series, as research for a long piece on her politics and art I’m working on for the Critic. No honest person who takes the trouble to read it can see the novel as transphobic. But then honest people are hard to find in a culture war.

But a reviewer for the Telegraph has read it and reviewed it, and that’s where the lunatic bullies are getting their fact-free facts.

The meat of the book, he declared is ‘the investigation into a cold case: the disappearance of GP Margot Bamborough in 1974, thought to have been a victim of Dennis Creed, a transvestite serial killer. One wonders what critics of Rowling’s stance on trans issues will make of a book whose moral seems to be: never trust a man in a dress’.

That slippery ‘seems’ should have put readers on their guard. The moral of the book is not ‘never trust a man in a dress’. Transvestism barely features. When it does, nothing is made of the fact that the killer wears a wig and a woman’s coat (not a dress) as a disguise when approaching one of his victims. Maybe this tiny detail is enough for the wilfully ignorant to damn Rowling as a ‘witch’ – I’m not making it up, for this is how Everton goalkeeper turned Twitter celebrity Neville Southall described her. But no one else should be satisfied.

The guy in a wig and a “woman’s coat” is on one page of a 900 page novel; it’s a minor detail. It’s as if Kitty Scherbatsky put on a pair of man’s gloves on one page of Anna Karenina and some ingenious literary critic decided that means Tolstoy was trans and the whole novel is about being trans.

In contrast to her opposition to Scottish nationalism, which to my mind makes a clumsy appearance in the novel, Rowling makes no attempt to nudge the reader towards today’s arguments about women-only spaces and the safeguards or lack of them governing the clinics that offer hormone suppressing drugs or surgery. Nothing flows from Creed’s disguise. It leads to no wider conclusions.

In one respect, however, her critics are right to scream ‘witch’. Rowling’s writing is becoming ever-more feminist; ever-more conscious of women’s physical and emotional abuse. The novel’s descriptions of how men condescend to Robin Ellacott, how they send her lewd pictures, grab her, talk over her, and refuse to accept her opinions because they are from a woman form one of the novels most convincing themes. 

In this sense, if nothing else, Rowling’s latest work honestly mirrors her online life. She knows, as her characters know, that women who speak out of turn find themselves alone in a free-fire zone.

Well said, Nick.

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