The Ink Black Heart has been out for less than a month and the three of us at The Strike & Ellacott Files are already on our second and third reads as we prepare to dive back into our regularly scheduled episodes of the podcast. J.K. Rowling’s latest has proven to be just as dark, complex, and fascinating as we’d hoped,and we cannot wait to explore all the clues, themes and characterization it has to offer. And with over 1,000 pages, there will be plenty to discuss! Here is a brief overview of some of the things you can look forward to hearing on our upcoming season where we will do a deep dive into The Ink Black Heart.
If you’ve listened to our podcast before, you’ll know that we love analyzing the epigraphs in the Strike novels, which add layers of meaning and provide a deeper insight and clues into their plots, characters, and relationships.
The epigraph to the Prologue reads:
“Wounds of the heart are often fatal, but not necessarily so.”
FRS Gray’s Anatomy
While this gives us insight into the wounds of the heart experienced in the prologue, it foreshadows the ending of the novel, a Coda in which Strike suffers a wound to the heart that finally allows him to open his eyes to the nature of his feelings for Robin. That such wounds are not necessarily fatal comes as a welcome reassurance to the reader invested in the romance between Strike and Robin; we can predict that in the seventh book Strike’s non-fatal wound will heal, and that the relationship between the partners will continue to grow.
“She was a careless, fearless girl… Kindhearted in the main, But somewhat heedless with her tongue, And apt at causing pain.”
Were it not already obvious that Madeline makes a terrible match for Strike, seeing this epigraph that she is ‘apt at causing pain’ reveals that this relationship will result in suffering; of course, I’m not sure that any of us could have reasonably expected this pain to appear so quite literally, in the form of a high heel to the leg.
There is also much to be gained from looking at the collection of epigraphs as a whole, a body of work that resonates with the themes of the novel. Rowling draws her epigraphs in The Ink Black Heart from the writing of more than 20 women poets, hailing from both Britain and America and spanning the 19th century. The epigraphs come from different artistic movements, concern different subjects, and are written in different styles; that they are written by women, many of whom used pseudonyms to publish their work, is one of the only commonalities between them. The 19th century was of course a period of immense social change, wrought in part by Industrialization; the lives of the later writers among Rowling’s epigraphs would have been nearly unrecognizable to the earliest of them. It was in response to these changes that Burkheim coined the term anomie at the close of the century, and the possibility that Rowling is drawing parallels between this period and the contemporary changes in society caused by the explosion of social media is an intriguing one. We’re looking forward to exploring this further, hopefully aided by the help of Dr. Beatrice Groves for a special episode deep dive into the women’s writing which frames The Ink Black Heart.
Rowling’s experience with fandom as the creator of one of the world’s most massive and beloved franchise must be both extensive and entirely unique; it is only with extensive knowledge about the particulars of fandom that an author could write such an authentic account, in which reading about InkHearts strikes a chord in anyone who considers themselves a part of a fandom. We can all recognize ourselves in this world of usernames, conventions, and occasional drama (although hopefully our recognition stops short of murder). The incredible accuracy in this depiction has us wondering if Rowling immersed herself in fandom culture for research, or if the years of experience with fandom from the other side has given her a rare understanding of its inner workings.
Rowling has recently said that the fandom within this book is not modeled on the Potter fandom. Instead, the InkHearts are inspired by what two of her children told her was a very toxic cartoon fandom (Pools and Kenz would place bets that it was Rick and Morty!). Nevertheless, we look forward to finding all of those elements which resonate with our own experiences in fandom.
J.K. Rowling said in a recent 25 www.therowlinglibrary.com interview that one of the biggest themes of The Ink Black Heart is disconnection. We see this in the character of Anomie, a term which means the lack of normal societal or ethical standards; someone who feels like they don’t fit in with society. Anomie adopts this name as a way to highlight their disconnect from society as they immerse themselves in an online world. Anomie also uses their power to enforce disconnection between others in Drek’s Game via Rule 14, a forced anonymity that ensures players cannot forge personal connections with each other. The search for Anomie throughout the novel is embedded in the larger landscape of a disconnected social media, where Robin and Strike must work to reconnect anonymous profiles with real identities in order to solve their case.
The theme of disconnection extends to the personal relationships of the main characters as well. Strike and his half-sister Prudence, for example, keep attempting to meet and for a multitude of reasons can’t seem to connect.
Most significantly, though, we see Strike and Robin having an intense disconnect over their feelings for each other. They can never seem to get on the same page, always assuming the other thinks the complete opposite of what they’re actually thinking.
However, all hope is not lost; even though there is a real disconnect romantically, Strike and Robin do find ways to connect and deepen their friendship throughout this book, something which is genuinely lovely to read amidst all the darkness. Another thing that should give us hope (especially those of us hoping for more than friendship between these two) is that finally they have each made the connection for themselves; by the end of the novel, each has admitted their true feelings to themselves, at least. We can only hope the theme of disconnection doesn’t find its way to Book 7!
While we’re on the subject of Strike and Robin’s relationship, you can be sure that the topic will be heavily discussed during our read through of The Ink Black Heart. We realize that many fans (including ourselves!) were hoping for and even expecting this to be the book in which Robin and Strike finally admitted their feelings to each other, but there is so much to be found in this novel regarding their friendship and their feelings—from sexual tension to self admissions of love to wounds to the heart, we are going to be kept quite busy! Over the next couple of years, while we eagerly anticipate the seventh book (sure in the knowledge that this time they will have to kiss) we will have a rich mine of speculation concerning how Strike will behave now that he’s finally opened his eyes, or what the exact impact of DCI Murphy on their relationship will be.
MEN BEHAVING BADLY
On our latest episode where we discussed our initial reactions to the book, we joked that The Ink Black Heart – and in fact the entire Strike series – should be called ‘Men Behaving Badly’. The different forms that misogyny takes in contemporary society, and the many ways in which men abuse and mistreat the women in their lives, is a running theme throughout the Strike novels. This holds true for The Ink Black Heart, in which there is a vast spectrum of bad behaviour: from abusive and sexist fathers, to men who groom young girls for sex, to abusive or violent reactions to romantic rejection (footnote: although it isn’t only men who are guilty of this here, as we see with Madeline), the book is full of men behaving very badly indeed. The most prominent manifestation of misogyny and sexual entitlement in the book, however, is in its proliferation online. In toxic fandom spaces and across social media, the relentless harassment doled out to women by pickup artists and incels (“If you’d ever been a woman online…” as Robin tells Strike) is a central feature of the novel. At its most sinister (and most accurate), The Ink Black Heart depicts the indoctrination of boys and vulnerable young men into these communities, and the tragic consequences that ensue.
Yet amidst the violence and hatred, there are some small rays of hope. The introduction of Ryan Murphy, and his respectful treatment of Robin as she fumbles her way to accepting his offer of a date, is one of these. And then there is Strike himself. True, he too is guilty of some bad behaviour—for example his continuing tendency to enter relationships as a distraction from his feelings for Robin, or to lie to his girlfriends in order to avoid conflict. However, his behaviour towards his partner throughout the book is a stark and refreshing contrast to the sexual entitlement other men display. His immediate acceptance of Robin’s non-verbal “no” on her birthday at the Ritz; the continuing friendship and support he offers his partner (he helps her move! He puts her name on the door!); his disgust for the men who groom and abuse young girls; all of these serve as confirmation that, as Rowling says in the acknowledgements of The Ink Black Heart, #notallbeards.
We have only scratched the surface here of all there is to think and talk about in this novel; we hope that you’ll join us when our close reading of The Ink Black Heart begins in October! If you’d like to learn more about The Strike & Ellacott Files, you can visit our website at www.thesefilespod.com and listen wherever you get your podcasts.
Kenz, Lindsay and Pools from
The Strike & Ellacott Files