What Happened in Norfolk? Speculations about the “Worst Place” of Strike’s Childhood.

Cormoran Strike no doubt has multiple traumatic memories of his childhood. He recalls the squalor of multiple squats where he lived as a child, including one that was so bad that his gentle Uncle Ted threatened violence to get him out. But, as reader share glimpses of Strike’s memories, one place stands out as the worst place of all: a commune in Norfolk where Strike lived at age 8.
Over two years ago, in my post “Piecing Together Cormoran Strike’s Childhood: Could Jonny Rokeby be the Snape of the Series?” I reviewed the information we had at the time about the Norfolk Commune, speculated that it was an end-times cult of some type, and that accusations of child abuse may have gotten the attention of Ted and Joan, Papa Jonny, or both. We learned a bit more about the commune in Troubled Blood, which opens up some new possibilities. After the jump, I will sum up the total known facts about the notorious Norfolk Commune, and speculate more generally about what we may eventually learn about this phase of Strike’s life.    

The place is mentioned only once in The Cuckoo’s Calling, in chapter 7. 

…worst of all, the dank dormitory of the commune in Norfolk to which his mother had dragged him and one of his half-sisters when they were eight and six respectively..    

We hear nothing more until Lethal White, when Strike, in Chapter 14, remembers: 

the teenager literally being whipped at a quasi-mystical commune in Norfolk (still, for Strike’s money, the worst place that Leda had ever taken them)

Then, in Troubled Blood, there are a couple of mentions: 

Every month, Rokeby’s money melted away on handouts to friends and boyfriends, and in reckless ventures—Strike remembered a jewelry business, an arts magazine and a vegetarian restaurant, all of which failed, not to mention the commune in Norfolk that had been the worst experience of his young life. (Ch. 17). 

He fell asleep thinking about the spurious groupings of astrology, and dreamed of Leda, laying out her tarot cards in the Norfolk commune of long ago. (Ch. 44). 

With the place now being mentioned in three of the five novels, it seems inevitable that it will eventually play some role in the over-arching story of the death of Leda Strike. It is interesting that three of the four mentions of this place site that this was the worst place Leda Strike ever took her small children. It’s almost as if the author wants us to remember that a bad thing happened here, or something.

In my earlier post, I speculated that Strike and Lucy were taken to the commune sometime in late autumn 1982 (around the time of CBS’s 8th birthday; the “dank” dormitory suggests they were there in cooler weather) and remained there until early February, when Strike started an elite private school in London and had two months of friendship with Charlie Bristow. The place is described as “quasi-mystical” and clearly practiced physical abuse of young members, as evidenced by Strike remembering the teenage being whipped. I speculated that the group was an end-times Christian cult (perhaps based on the Family International)–  which would explain both the abuse and Strike’s familiarity with the Book of Revelation. It is also reasonable to suppose that Leda would have fit right into the “flirty fishing” culture.

In the comments on that post, Hogpro reader Bonni Crawford suggested another possibility: an extreme anti-capitalist cult like the Worker’s Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. This group was also accused of domestic and child abuse. Time in a place like this could certainly have explained the adult Strike’s disdain for the far-left politics of Jimmy Knight, Flick and CORE. 

Troubled Blood gave us two more tidbits of information about this dark period of Strike’s childhood. First, it was one of the places in which Leda frittered away Rokeby’s child support money. Second, we know Leda read tarot cards there. The fact that Leda gave away money there really doesn’t tell us much about the specifics of it: the leadership of pretty much any community would happily accept, or even demand, a chunk of Leda’s child support payments. The tarot reading, however, suggest that the group was more of a New Age spiritual community. Tarot readers would be unlikely to be welcome in either a strict Christian community or hard-core communists. Unless, of course, the horrible memories of the place involve Leda being driven out for her Satanic practices, or the curious young teen for whom she was doing the reading being beaten for it.

Finally, no discussion about the speculations about what the commune was and how it might be important would be complete without reminding readers of the added scene to the TV adaptation, of Strike locating and seeking out Brittany Brockbank in a commune. Though the Norfolk commune has yet to be mentioned in the TV show, the concept of a commune definitely has, and likely foreshadows something. 

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