Nicola Griffith’s third novel about Aud Torvingen, Always, tells the story of a self defense class. It’s half the book, told in alternating chapters with a companion story in which Aud deals with criminal business activity in Seattle.
Aud doesn’t teach a self defense class exactly the same way I would teach it. In fact, as Nicola points out in her afterword, she doesn’t teach it the same way Nicola used to teach self defense. As Nicola says, “The way [Aud] teaches self-defense is particular and peculiar to her.”
But she teaches legitimate self defense. And she tells the truth. In fact, this novel provides a better overview of both the true dangers out there and how self defense should work than many so called non-fiction self defense books that are more about scaring people than giving them something to work with.
And that’s even with a plot element that makes Aud question herself. It’s a novel, after all, and the self defense story isn’t just there for window dressing.
Here is some of the good advice Aud provides over the course of the book:
Self-defense is not just a skill. It’s a worldview.
Self-defense has only one goal: to survive.
[W]omen fight off unarmed rapists successfully seventy-two percent of the time. [Rapists with a knife, fifty-eight percent of the time. Rapists with a gun, fifty-one percent of the time.] … [W]e’re talking about untrained, unarmed women.
[T]he papers and the news underreport fight-back stories by five thousand two hundred percent.
We always have a choice of some kind, just not always the choices we would like.
Nothing and no one can keep you perfectly safe. … We prepare, we practice, we do the work, and then we try to forget about it, because no matter how big and fast and strong you are, how heavily armed or well trained, there’s always going to be someone out there who is bigger, faster, or stronger. Always.
Of course, the book isn’t just a guide to self defense. It’s also a wonderful novel. Aud is a warrior who has walked in some pretty dark places, but in this book, even while dealing with some violent and difficult problems, she’s learning how to live fully in the world. It’s a book that takes its time, and every scene is rich.
By the way, Nicola and her partner, Kelley Eskridge, have formed Sterling Editing to offer editing, mentoring, and coaching for writers. Nicola was one of my Clarion West teachers, so I know she knows how to guide and critique as well as write. I suspect their writing advice will be as dead on as Aud’s self defense lessons.
Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.