The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad

Issue section: 
(375)

Derrick Jensen and Stephanie Macmillan

It's surprising to open a book and find, on the very first page, the line "Brigitte didn't set out to be a revolutionary. She just wanted to make some fabulous sweaters", but Derrick Jensen's new novel is unusual in every way. It follows a group of women who realise, during one of their weekly knitting groups, that they have all been raped. When they find out that none of their attackers have ever faced justice they decide to take things into their own hands.

Knitting needles are transformed from their domestic role into instruments of liberation as the women go on a killing spree, using their needles to stab their rapists. The movement spreads quickly and soon knitting circles spring up around the world, encouraging more women to fight back against sexism and rape.

The novel mixes very serious subject matter with a dark comic style which mocks the prevalence of "rape culture" and sexist attitudes. When the murders are first reported police claim they have no idea of a motive, despite the group issuing a message stating "Stop rape or face the wrath of the knitting circle".

Many elements of US culture and political life are satirised: the US state declares an alliance with Al Qaeda to stop the "terrorists" of the knitting circle; animal rights group PATE (a play on PETA) comes out against the knitting circles on the basis that if men aren't allowed to rape women it will increase attacks on animals, and US commentator Glenn Beck appears on TV to explain why rape doesn't exist.

A sense that the whole of society is complicit in the oppression of women runs through the book. One of the group was raped by a priest, another by a school counsellor and another by a police officer. None of them felt able to report their attacks because they knew they would not be believed. Though the novel is often hilarious, it also touches on the appalling truths about rape: that so many cases go unreported, and so many men walk free.

But while the book is a fantastic rallying cry against sexism it fails to explore the roots of women's oppression. In the end it suggests thaat rape and sexism can be eradicated without uprooting capitalism itself. By the end both the plot and its politics have lost their way. Cutting social commentary gives way to an increasingly surreal plot and the writing goes off on a number of un-useful tangents.

Despite its flaws, The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad is still an enjoyable read, especially for revolutionaries. The problem is that the book doesn't offer any way in which readers can challenge oppression in their own lives.

The plot isn't meant to be realistic, and unfortunately we can't simply get rid of rape by all taking up knitting needles. If Jensen had spent less time on bizarre plot twists and more time trying to expose the roots of sexism in class society, the novel would be far stronger both politically and artistically. A book which challenges rape culture and the myths around it is fantastic, but women need to go even further to end our oppression for good.

The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad is published by PM Press, £10.99