We are so excited to be able to share this guest post, written by Louise M. Freeman, Professor of Psychology and blogger at https://fartingsofafaculty.blogspot.com/ about the lasting impacts of trauma and the possibilities of healing from it. Regular listeners of the podcast will know that this is one of our favourite themes to talk about in the Strike & Ellacott novels, so we hope you enjoy Professor Freeman’s brilliant insights into trauma and memory in The Ink Black Heart!
By: Louise M. Freeman, Professor of Psychology, Mary Baldwin University
One of the handful of hints we have gotten about the contents of The Running Grave is that someone–and many suspect Strike’s half-sister and fellow Rokeby-bastard, Prudence–will suggest therapy to Strike. If it is Prudence, it would be logical that the goal of therapy be resolving Strike’s daddy-issues and making peace with Rokeby. But I am going to speculate that, if Strike does get therapy in TRG, it will eventually lead to a darker and more serious subject: Strike’s own trauma history.
We know Strike has long-term effects from the IED blast beyond the loss of his leg. He initially had panic attacks when he had to be driven by others and still has a lingering nervousness about that, something only super-driver Robin has been able to supersede. We saw him have a brief but vivid flashback to the Afghanistan explosion in The Cuckoo’s Calling:
But the photographers ran alongside the vehicle, flashes erupting on either side; and Strike’s whole body was bathed in sweat: he was suddenly back on a yellow dirt road in the juddering Viking, with a sound like firecrackers popping in the Afghanistan air; he had glimpsed a youth running away from the road ahead, dragging a small boy. Without conscious thought he had bellowed “Brake!” lunged forwards and seized Anstis, a new father of two days’ standing, who was sitting right behind the driver; the last thing he remembered was Anstis’s shouted protest, and the low metallic boom of him hitting the back doors, before the Viking disintegrated with an ear-splitting bang, and the world became a hazy blur of pain and terror.
After the office bombing in The Ink Black Heart, I fully expected some sort of trauma reaction in Strike. After all, he and Pat were caught in the actual explosion, and I can only imagine that the sound and smell of the bomb were closer to the IED experience than a couple of photographers’ flashbulbs. Maybe it was the fact that he wasn’t in a car, or maybe he was so focused on Pat’s safety that he wasn’t thinking of himself, much as he managed to let Lucy help drive to Cornwall to reach the dying Joan. But I still would have expected Strike to eventually make some connection between the two times in his life that he’s been bombed, and to at least have a nightmare or two. After all, Robin’s “sleepless nights” and “bad dreams” re-emerged after her encounter with Gus in which he threatened rape.
There are two signs that Strike could be experiencing residual effects of the office bombing. First, the jumping stump. There are two major causes of this condition: The first is damage to the peripheral nerves in the amputated limb and, as Strike’s doctor told him, it would be unusual for that to happen so long after the amputation, though, not impossible, given the abuse Strike heaps upon his stump. In the ultrasound , the doctor was almost certainly looking for a neuroma: a thickening of the nerve ending that can cause both pain and involuntary movements . The medical exam did not detect a neuroma, leaving psychogenic causes as the most likely explanation for the spasms. In other words, jumping stump is a physical symptom, like panic attacks, that can be triggered by stress or anxiety. The fact that Strike was also having muscle spasms in his face is an additional pointer to an emotional cause, rather than physical injury within the stump, though the pain from the injury surely added to Strike’s distress.
True, the jumping stump started on the morning of June 5th, before the bombing. But Strike had been under stress for some time, with the agency overloaded with cases, the looming threat of being named in the Campbell-Ross divorce and, most recently, having to listen to a tape recording of Robin making out with Pez Pierce, something that was likely more emotionally distressing than he wanted to admit. And, the jumping stump definitely intensifies after the bombing, getting worse at the Whitstable hotel and on the drive to Leeds, and continuing off and on until Strike goes to the hospital on June 11th.
A second sign of Strike’s deteriorating mental and physical health is a symptom that has not yet been formally noticed by Strike or any of his colleagues, but one that jumped out at me on my first reading of TIBH. Strike has always had a near super-human memory, recalling, for instance, seemingly insignificant details, like Mucky Ricci’s lion ring, from a long-ago errand with Shanker. Except for personal details like Robin’s birthday and his nephews’ ages, we have almost never seen his memory fail him, with one exception from the Silkworm that has never been mentioned again:
“Elizabeth Tassel told me there’s a Jacobean revenge play featuring a poisoned skeleton disguised as a woman. Presumably someone shags it and dies. Not a million miles away from Phallus Impudicus getting ready to—”
“Don’t,” said Robin, with a half laugh and a shudder.
But Strike had not broken off because of her protest, or because of any sense of repugnance. Something had flickered deep in his subconscious as he spoke. Somebody had told him…someone had said…but the memory was gone in a flash of tantalizing silver, like a minnow vanishing in pondweed.
“A poisoned skeleton,” Strike muttered, trying to capture the elusive memory, but it was gone.
But, in TIBH, there are at least 11 occasions where he either forgets something or relies on Robin to remember a detail before him.
- He can’t remember the breed of evil-looking sheep that Charlotte’s dad kept. (The Ritz)
- “I’ve got an idea I’ve seen or heard something about a brotherhood recently but can’t remember where…” (Chapter 24)
- Robin, not Strike, connects the name Preston Pierce to the person mentioned in Strike’s notes from the Red Lion and Sun. (Chapter 34)
- Robin, not Strike, remembers that Tim Ashcroft taught Flavia to draw animals. (Chapter 38)
- Strike forgets Robin is moving to her new flat. (Chapter 56)
- “Can’t remember whether I told you this, but when he talked about Anomie hiding behind a keyboard, he made a gesture suggesting a mask.” (Chapter 75)
- Strike can’t remember where he’s heard the name Evola before. (Chapter 78)
- Strike can’t remember the name of the “famous public school” where the Latin teacher he knew as a teenager taught. (Chapter 84)
- Strike forgets he hadn’t told Robin what happened when he visited Jago Ross. (Chapter 88)
- Strike can’t remember when they ruled Gus Upcott out as a suspect. (Chapter 96)
- Strike can’t remember how long ago his amputation was. He says “Six – no, seven years ago” when it was closer to eight. (Chapter 96)
Now, Strike’s past forty; it would be natural to show some memory decline. He should probably also be screened for sleep apnea, giving his smoking, loud snoring and being overweight; sleep apnea is a known cause of memory loss. But, as with the jumping stump, the memory lapses accelerate after the bombing in Chapter 70, again, suggesting a psychogenic cause. The first five on the list above (pre-bomb) occur between October 2013 and May 2014: seven months. The last six happen between the bombing on June 5th and June 11th: less than one week. For a guy who has been known for extraordinary memory for five books, this seems a precipitous decline. During my first read of TIBH, I thought Strike was heading for a stroke. Now, I am speculating that this heralds a return of trauma symptoms that Strike may be forced to medically address in the next book, just as Robin had to address hers in Lethal White.
Even more interesting would be if the exploration of trauma history stretches back further than the IED explosion. Norfolk is a near-certain setting for at least some of TRG, as seen in Rowling’s twitter headers, and we have been told in multiple books that a commune in Norfolk was “the worst place” Leda ever took Strike and Lucy when they were children. TIBH told us that Strike, “never went voluntarily into Norfolk and in fact had a slight prejudice against the whole county.” Whatever happened there, it seems to have left Strike with a mild phobia of the entire region, comparable to his fear of being driven by others. That suggests something pretty horrible.
Could Strike have either experienced physical or sexual abuse there, or seen it happen to others, perhaps even to Lucy or Leda? Or worse, witnessed an apparent murder, like young Billy Knight? I keep going back to the line in The Silkworm that triggered the elusive “silver minnow” memory: “Somebody shags it and dies,” and how similar that is to “He strangled it, up by the horse.” It may be that the therapy suggested to him will need to address issues stretching back to those formative years.
With any luck, Strike’s hospitalization for the punctured lung will also lead to some much-needed rest and physical therapy for the leg and to an order for a sleep study when his snoring keeps all the other patients in the ward awake. As for whether he addresses the trauma connected to either the explosion or the commune, that’s an issue we could see unfold in the next book. Ethically, Prudence cannot treat Strike herself, but hopefully she could refer him to someone good.
Fortunately, we’ll find out in less than five months!
You can find more of Louise’s thoughts on Cormoran Strike at www.fartingsofafaculty.blogspot.com
10 thoughts on “Jumping Stumps and Memory Lapses: Strike’s Trauma History and What it Could Mean For The Running Grave”
Wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing. As a person with PTSD I am very interested in this subject matter as well. I am also always hoping that Robin will delve more into the fact that her relationship with Matthew was one of coercive control. She seems to think more of them as not being well suited, and that he is a jerk, etc. I think it’s obvious that he is truly abusive, and I have no doubt that Sarah Shadlock is getting the brunt of it now. It actually makes me feel bad for Sarah if you can believe it! New mothers are often terribly isolated which would make her much more vulnerable to the kind of emotional and verbal abuse we know Matthew to dish out. But of course, it’s Robin’s mental health and safety I’m actually interested in. I do think she needs to face what he did to her, and I hope this will be explored in a future book.
Anyway, thanks for the great post!
It was always a bad sign that Robin did not seem to like his family much, nor they her. It was very telling that the late Mother Cunliffe thought Robin “tainted” by the way she left university, as if she was to blame for her own rape and subsequent mental health issues.
Loved reading it ! Trauma screams out of both characters (and Charlotte) to a
point at which it’s physically painful on occasion. I can’t see Strike ‘going for therapy’ unless something generates a more intense reaction – I’m sure abuse memories will figure in TRG. Given Robins development in IBH I think it’s Strikes turn this time and it will be really painful though necessary.
Thank you, Sarah. It can be hard to think of Charlotte as a trauma victim, since she is so despicable herself, but of course she is, along with many of the other bad guys: Laing, Creed, Janice, Gus, etc.
This is a brilliant article thank you. I too thought Strike may be heading for a stroke in the IBH. I actually have a deep fear that Strike may actually die in the last book – after all he has suffered a lot in addition to the amputation, including now having a punctured lung. I do hope though he starts seriously taking more care of his body and mind in TRG. Your other points about his memory and other traumas bring all my crazy jumbled ones together. Thank you so much for this amazing blog. ❤️❤️
I am definitely hoping for a more Harry Potter than Casual Vacancy ending to the series. I think there will be another heart-wrenching death, but I think it will be Shanker, Ted or (Snape-like, after we learn something major that changes our perspective about him) Rokeby.
Thank you for this article. So much food for thought! 🙂
Your recap of the memory loss moments was quite interesting! I hadn’t realized there had been sooo many. It looks like this is going to be a Strike-trauma-loaded book. What was that first TRG epigraph about things ‘that should have been stopped but weren’t’, or words to that effects? As to therapy, I’m hoping Pru will not be the one suggesting it. Mostly because I think it might set the tone for their first face-to-face interactions to feel like that of therapist-patient. I guess I keep thinking of what Ilsa said about ‘women who wanted to fix him’ (I believe he said something to that effect in the IBH). So, I’m hoping it’ll be either Robin or Pat, who will be dealing with her own trauma.
Very interesting thoughts, Luc. “Should have been stopped but wasn’t” is definitely a repeating theme in the series.
If the Bristows had taken Tony’s warning about John seriously, John would not have killed Lula and Rochelle,
If Strike hadn’t punched Brockbank in the original arrest, Brockbank wouldn’t have been set free to molest other girls.
If Jasper Chiswell had taken Freddie’s antisocial behaviors (strangling Raff, shooting pony, abusing the Winn’s daughter) seriously, he might not have been murdered.
If Douthwaite had come forward with his suspicions about Janice, she might have been stopped before she could kill so many.
If poor little Flavia had not been so browbeaten by her parents, she might have felt free to share what she knew about Gus’s psychopathy.
In fact, the only book that theme doesn’t especially apply to is The Silkworm, when Liz “the blacktip shark” Tassel makes her first killing.
I could see Strike feeling guilty if he witnessed something horrible as a child and did not speak up to stop it; even if he was only 8 at the time. That could very well link to his compassion for Billy Knight. But I bet the person who hushed up the crimes will turn out to be one of the adults in Strike’s life: Leda, Ted, or possibly Rokeby.
Or… If Strike had opened his eyes! lol
Oh, you may be on to something here! I totally see that kind of storyline happening in TRG. And Joan would be in it too. After all, as Ilsa said – here she goes again… lol – Joan was all about “not shaming the family”.
Thank you for this, so interesting! I remember noticing Strike’s memory problem and putting it down as a mistake made my JKR. Feeling a bit dumb now…
I think all the comments make great points – I would add that Charlotte was emotionally abusive towards Strike and he has spend multiple books realising not all relationships have to be like that. I would guess the Campbell-Ross situation with Madeline bringing up old patterns of behaviour isn’t really helping his health in IBH.
It will be super interesting to find out about Norfolk – I was going to say that I don’t believe Strike would have kept quiet about seeing a murder for ao long in his inner monologue- but I’ve just read him thinking about he has seen in military that suicide leaves the grieving with festering wounds without a single thought about his mother’s suicide. So I guess Strike is not aalways a reliable narrator.