Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

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A Surprising Ending May 21, 2010

Sometimes I think I just save .gifs randomly – seriously, the above one is just one I found sitting on my computer (it’s from last week’s episode of Doctor Who).

A surprise ending. AND the last official post on Mayhue’s A Highlander’s Homecoming. Overall, I think I’m getting into some sort of … swing as to how I’m going to handle this blog. As I’ve mentioned, I’m really open to suggestions so, if you want to see me handle anything different (talk about something else, linger on something more – and yes, I am going to talk about the sex just not yet, there is a method to my madness on that subject – but anything else) email me. Comment. You get it.

So – why did the ending ‘surprise’ me. Well, mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. I think I remember writing in the first post on this novel that I was sure what happens after the hero and the heroine get together.

Are we supposed to care about the plot?

Are we supposed to expect the tying up of loose ends?

More examples of Mayhue’s favorite deus ex machina at play?

What surprised me wasn’t any of the above questions being answered. I guess we’re supposed to care about the plot – I think, at least with this novel, you care somewhat (though, as I said before, it’s a secondary aspect – I’m not sure if I would consider the ‘ending’ part of the plot – but more on that). The loose ends? The deus ex machina? Hand-in-hand, of course.

Summary: Robbie is dying from the wound that he originally went forward in time for – Isa embroiled in some sort of politics and marries some other guy – but then they find the ‘power’ ‘magic’ ‘whatevs’ to go back into the future to live happily.

And have sex in the bathroom. That’s, of course, the first thing they do – which, I have to say, is strange. I mean, Isa’s from the 1200s … I think I’d have a few more questions about where I was than immediately having sex in a modern day bathroom.

My reaction in .gif form of another Doctor:

Anyway – beyond the sex and the time change – there’s the surprising bit. The bit I don’t really consider part of the plot: the ending.

There’s always been this idea – for Robbie more so than Isa at first – of family. Of Soulmates. Of children and so on.

So how does the story end beyond the quick summary I just gave you?

“Robert glanced back toward the picnic table under the tress where his beautiful Isa poured cups of iced juice for the children.

When she caught him staring she laughed, placing a hand on the delicate basket at her side. By this time next year, there would be another MacQuarrie future footballer toddling around in the mix. His precious daughter, who he hoped would grow to look exactly like her mother. Though barely four months hold, she already had the wild red hair.” p.337

“This was his home.

It had taken him almost a decade of self-doubt and the near loss of his life – twice! – but all the wonder that he saw as he looked at the friends and family surrounding him left with no questions.

This was what made this highlander’s homecoming worth every minute of his life.” p.340

Okay – all of that is so full of cheese you’d need an entire bottle of wine to weed through it – I had whiskey. Good enough. The last line is particularly wonderful – so wonderful I laughed out loud when I read it and just now when I typed it.

But beyond the cheesiness – this was something I mentioned in a previous post: home. Mayhue, at first, wasn’t very clear at what ‘home’ was to Robbie. At first, I thought it was the Keep back in the 1200s, but strange Robbie is very distant to his home. We see his father once, his mother twice.

It is only when he gets with Isa and when he is settled that he has a definitive home and that the novel can end. This idea of ‘family’ and ‘settling’ is attractive in itself – no, I don’t mean yay! Isa’s barefoot and pregnant (yuck no) – I mean, there’s no more conflict, they have a nice little family, blah blah blah American dream, I guess you could say.

Is this the other high of these novels? That you get the sex, the fantasy, but in the end a happy family? Hello post-it note.

I think Robbie himself is a distinct character – what I’ve read of the next book (which I’m keeping a surprise until Monday mwahaha) makes the male character out to be quite different – but I could be wrong. It will be interesting to see – is there talk of soulmates? Talk of children? Talk of a home?

What will the ending be?

Will the reader get the second high of seeing a happy family?

Or is that just another personal preference of mine?

Dunno.

That’s the bad thing about this being the ‘first novel’ – I don’t have anything to compare it to yet. What you’ve read so far are only my thoughts on a single novel – I get to read eleven more.

But you know what I haven’t shown you?

The back cover.

Not quite Fabio (and her hair looks like she was photoshopped to be a ginger)

Look for the next book on Monday!

Time for a PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.

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They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit …

The title of this verse is from a Robert Burns’ poem – Tam o’Shanter. If you couldn’t guess just from the one line, Burns is writing in dialect – a Scottish dialect, in fact. I had the lucky opportunity to study this poem in Scotland at St. Andrews and I will say – the best way to read this poem is to do it in your best Scottish accent – no matter how bad it is (picture me on Skype with my mom trying to). Here’s the whole stanza this verse is in so you can see:

“As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,

The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:

The piper loud and louder blew;

The dancers quick and quicker flew;

They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,

Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,

And coost her duddies to the wark,

And linket at it in her sark!”

I copied that from my massive Norton Anthology – the whole poem is available online – just google it. For fun – you could do what I did. I had to read it in class in my normal accent, but to really understand it, you have to really work through your best fake one.

That’s dialect in poetry.

Dialect in novels is also the same way. I’m just going to name authors here since my Eliot novels are either yet to be packed in NJ or are packed away here waiting to be unpacked this weekend. So – Eliot, Dickens, Twain – the list goes on. Dialect not only creates character, it sets place, time, class – all of these things.

So why am I going on about dialect? (Right now I wish I had Eliot’s Adam Bede on hand – Adam has two ways of speaking: a way with his mother at home, and a way when he is with other people – gah! But I think dialect will come up again so I won’t go into mourning)

Mayhue’s attempt at dialect is … well, laughable really. It’s so stereotypical – throw in a few ‘yer’s ‘canna’s and ‘dinna’s and poof! Scottish dialect … not so much. One could say Robbie has an excuse, of course, if his accent slips (and I swear – that is one HUGE deus ex machina if I ever saw one – she can get away with so much having that plot point of Robbie having been in the ‘future’). But Isa doesn’t. Her words become jumbled with lots of ‘yers’ and ‘canna’s and ‘dinna’s.

Thing about dialect is … if you’re going to write in it you have to be able to mold it. It’s not like there’s a set vernacular, which seems to be Mayhue’s hangup. There’s a vernacular in her dialect – all the Scots in this book talk the same way, even if they are of different rank or class – you name it.

But again – here’s the thing – does this matter?

Certainly, in an Eliot novel it matters. In a Dickens, in a Twain – of course. But does it matter in this random book I picked up in Giant a few weeks ago, just published this year, that will probably be read in a day or two by most then forgotten about once it’s ‘used up’ so to say?

It’s things like this that get me thinking – why the heck am I bothering to talk about dialect in a book whose main audience probably doesn’t give a crap. Or they do and they don’t care that it’s contrived – they just want the ‘feel’ of the voice (I don’t even know what I mean by that).

So frustration:

That lovely .gif reminds me there’s a new Doctor Who on tomorrow – woot woot!

And talking about dialect of course bring up the whole idea of research. I thought a lot about if I was going to talk about research but I’m in the middle on the subject. So – for now – sticking to just dialect.

I think the research side would infuriate me … I’m very much into researching before I write to make sure I’m not going against the period that I think if I got into research at the moment, there’d be no stopping a rant. I think the ‘historical’ aspect of these novels should be pushed aside (not like the ginger case) but until near the end.

I want to do a little research on my own – just wait and see.

But back to dialect. If you hadn’t figured it out by now, I am a picky person. I get angry about accents in movies (I actually made up my own ‘rules’ about accents – but I won’t get into that). When I’m reading a novel, though, I like the variety. I like what you can ultimately ‘get’ from dialect.

I have a feeling, though, in this genre dialect is just a sort of extra. Oh – they’re not American! Oh – it’s pretty Scottish lads! Oh – JUST. LISTEN. TO. HIS. ACCENT.

And I think that’s the case – it’s one of those: oh, doesn’t he have a nice accent?

Rather than: what do these dialects tell us?

In a phrase: it’s just for show.

Time for a PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.

 

A Ginger Post: Part 1 May 20, 2010

I promised Paul that he would be in the first sentence of this post since he supposedly ‘gave me time to blog’ by letting me off the phone.

But I’m not going so far as dedicating this post to him – nope – this one’s for Sarah, who had to put up with my constant talk of ‘why does everyone hate gingers?’

As you can see – ginger hate is a subject that hits home with me. Because I am a ginger.

Me being a ginger very recently with Sarah

Me being a ginger again as Sarah and I attend 'Ragtime'

Me as a ginger with Val on a hill in Ireland

I'm surprised the Dalek hasn't killed me for being a ginger (in Scotland)

Meeting Mr. Bingley as a ginger (also Scotland)

I guess I should consider myself lucky that my hair tends to be on the auburn side for the most part – but looking at my graduation picture (I’m now working from a wonderful little desk my aunt set up for me – pictures to come next week once I have all of my books and such in place – but if you visit my facebook group, you can see the desk untouched) that’s some red hair. No thank you photoshop. Yay for clearing up blemishes, though.

Anyway – my intention with this post is really to have fun. It’s a ‘part 1’ meaning that I intend to write about this subject more than once and this is only the inaugural post on the subject. It’s not going to be very long – not as long as the others. But, I knew I’d be writing about it more than once when I saw the cover then read the inside summary for my next book.

Red hair is a thing. A big thing.

But is it a bad thing?

Well, in context … no. But it is annoying when your male character, in this case Robbie, repeatedly says things such as:

“Their magic was as fickle as a red-headed woman.” p.25

“Not under the same roof with that redheaded bitch his brother had married.” p.18

“Now the red-haired bitch who’d used him as a stepping stone to get to his brother had managed to bring even more trouble to the MacQuarrie Keep.” p.40

“He should have known it would be like this the minute he’d learned Isabella MacGahan was a redhead.” p.77

Not that I, ya’ know, paid any attention to remarks like this throughout the book.

When I was talking on the phone to Paul, though, I told him what I was writing my newest post about. And his reply was: You know what they say about gingers! Me, thinking I would get some good quote from him, asked what and he replied with something I’m not even going to type, so you can see this theme. Isn’t there even a hug-a-ginger day thanks to Facebook?

Anyway, what the hell does this have to do with the story?

It probably doesn’t surprise you that the person Robbie ends up falling in love with is a redhead. That’s pretty much obvious. What is important, I think, with this trait is the list of other things that come along with it.

A fiery temper.

The need to do it one’s self – a strong sense of independence, I mean.

And, of course, something very sexual. To just give you a sneak peek of the next book, this is included in the ‘summary’ (why that’s in inverted commas, I will explain next week):

“And that fiery redhead who burst into my chamber that first morning is worst of all.”

It would be a interesting thing to do to keep tally of all the heroines of these novels who end up being redheaded.

It seems, looking at some of the traits that accompany these fictional redheads, they’re traits to be contained, controlled maybe. Not in a Bella/Edward way – nor like Taming of the Shrew but in … I don’t know, a way that brings a hyperbolized redheaded character down a few notches and closer to reality.

In my experience of reading A Highlander’s Homecoming, I really only found that Isa was tolerable after Robbie made an appearance. Before that she was sort of annoying – not in an anti-feminist way, don’t get me wrong. But she was too much what you expected – all the traits above. So what does that have to do with red hair?

Tangential related story: a few years ago, can’t remember exactly when, I was looking around the reference section of Barnes and Noble, then the Fiction Anthology section – since those two sections are pretty good when you need information on canon, background on different writings, and whatnot. They, to this day, remain two of my favorite sections of the store. I had been writing for years and found it almost an inclination to make at least one of my main characters have red hair – not because I did – but because it somehow fit. Then I came across this book:

'The Roots of Desire'

At this very moment I am still kicking myself for not getting it. But, seeing as I’m writing this blog all summer – I am going to get it. And I am going to read it. This is why I said this post may not be too long.

This is something I have to acquaint myself with – do a little research on (not that I could have done it for this post – but where would the fun be to pack it all in at the beginning?). I think, really, that the subject is fascinating – but I don’t want my view on it to be uninformed – or even juvenile.

My thoughts are very simple – redhair = fiery = love interest = tamed (?)

It may not prove true for all these books – it may prove so for more than I think. I’m certainly not going to pick the books out to fit this (seriously – I plan on buying the third one at the supermarket again so the pickings are slim – I’ll graduate to B&N at some point).

So – summation I suppose – I know I wasn’t very book-specific in this post. As I said, it was more of introducing this idea of a redheaded heroine. Of course, I imagine this novel will reappear as I go on to look into this topic as it was the text that brought my attention clearly to it.

I guess I should almost thank it.

30 minutes to go (my aunt goes to bed at 11 so I have to be out of the temporary office by then). Look at that Paul – could’ve had thirty more minutes to talk – my GaGa claws type fast!

Time for a PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.

 

I apologize for the lack of snarky-ness in my last post. May 18, 2010

Drink for Thought and/or Thank God for Wegmans

So – why am I apologizing for my lack of snarky-ness?

Well, I know that’s what a lot of you are here to read. And, let’s face it. Yesterday I went a little academic on all of you – I applaud whoever managed to get through that heap of ‘here are six points and me explaining those six points and aren’t you glad this is the first post?.’ Really, I blame it all on this kick I’ve been on lately – let’s call it … Dickens Mania. It isn’t just Dickens though – it’s Victorian writers, it’s theory – all my cups of tea.

So, tonight what I am saying is – be glad I am on my third Strongbow and am talking about canon, exposition, and the skipping of scenes.

Just to give you all a little background, I am drinking lots and lots not only to use up the obvious plentiful amounts of alcohol I have left, but also because I am packing. Packing, to me, is stressful beyond the usual ‘omg I have so much’. My OCD is through the roof plus it’s mixed with a lot of other problems that make packing/throwing things away an absolute nightmare. So the formula for today has been: Strongbow starting at 4:00 pm + the Little Dorrit mini-series starting a little earlier + a lot of music I can dance to since the morning. Happy to say – it’s working and my room is rather clear beyond my computer and a few other things that will be moved in the morning before I leave.

Anyway. Canon.

Canon - The Camera

Me and a cannon in Scotland (Sarah, either your Grandad or your Granny took this photo)

For those of you who have no idea what canon is – wiki that shit, I’m not your babysitter (god, I think I said that in my last blog almost word for word, but there you go – you know how to use google).

Before I actually get into the novel (which, as I told you last night, I would finish and I did – of course), I need to say that this particular book is part of a series. Not like Harry Potter but a series with an established canon, what I assume to be recurring characters, etc.

Thing is – canon in this book really doesn’t matter much. Exposition doesn’t matter either. I mean – the two things are there to a very small extent – but the reader isn’t treated to a warm up on the canon or even details into exposition.

For instance, look at this chapter transition – it contains these two points (lack of canon, lack of exposition):

Prologue (ending)

“With something of a plan formed, he pushed all thoughts from his mind. None of them mattered for the moment. When he finished the task his king had assigned him, nothing save death would keep him from his oath to see to the safety of Isabella MacGahan.” p.5

Chapter One (beginning)

“As it turned out, death was exactly what had kept Robert from fulfilling his oath to protect Isabella MacGahan. Or more precisely, the death he would have suffered had not Conner MacKiernan’s bride not whisked him more than seven hundred years into the future through the use of her Faerie Magic.” p.8.

While you’re digesting that – let me write out my marginal notes for you:

Are you joking?

What is this paragraph???

Done digesting? Good. Confused? Well, maybe not confused but left wanting at all? I mean … wtf? Seriously. Wtf.

I know I talked A LOT about transitions yesterday but that was from person to person – this chapter to chapter transition is unforgivable. And yet …

Okay, I’m not going to make excuses for the author. Clearly, this sucks. It just does. You can’t dance around the fact that is some shitty writing. There’s no exposition. There’s sudden introduction to canon we’re expected to know. Why I pause with that ‘and yet …’ is the whole ‘series’ aspect of this particular novel.

The plot itself is self contained, but the canon – the Magic – as a whole isn’t. It brings to light something rather interesting about these books – their following. Obviously, there is a following – I never doubted that. What I didn’t realize was how – at least in this book – how ‘insider’ it seems to be.

Let me go back to Harry Potter. And let me first say – I am not comparing. This happened in my seminar, funny enough. I made a comment – more of a joke that was misinterpreted by a few at first. I said that Stephenie Meyer needs to step away from the fog. Fog is Dickens territory. I didn’t mean that I was comparing the two. Same thing here, I’m not comparing Mayhue to Rowling. I’m just using an example to prove a point – like Dickens uses fog, Rowling uses exposition and canon. Mayhue – not so much.

Explain. Yes. I know. When you pick up a Harry Potter book, you obviously don’t start from book five and continue on. But, let’s say if you did, Rowling provides you with some backstory. Not an egregious amount of it – not an outlining of the books that preceded the fifth – just a bit of background, enough to remind the usual reader and let the newer reader slip in as best as possible (I can say this from experience. I read the first three books when I was Harry’s age (haha) and was rather out of the loop when then fifth came out so what exposition she gave was helpful as I couldn’t remember a damned thing).

But, in Mayhue’s work, we’re not really given that chance to … catch up. Granted, we gradually learn about this Faerie (god I hate that spelling and I cannot tell you why) Magic, but, in my opinion, it functions as this sort of deus ex machina (wiki that too if you don’t know what I mean). Oh the Faerie Magic can heal people! Oh it can send you back and forth in time! Oh it can control the weather! Blah blah blah – yadda yadda yadda.

Needless to say, I was the one at a disadvantage. I had no idea what the established canon of Mayhue’s world was, nor did I gain any information from her exposition … of which there’s rather little of. This time jump that occurs from the Prologue to the first chapter is strange. We never actually see this happen, we’re just told that it does.

This is where a good following comes in handy. This, I think, is one of the perks of writing a trashy romance novel – I may be wrong – I’m only hypothesizing at the moment so no one strike me down! You can get away with little to no explanation of canon or any exposition in a series because there are fans – fans who know the ins and outs and – let’s face it – probably don’t care too much about the specifics. I mean, what are these novels really centered around, one must remember.

Anyway, sum that up. Your canon is not explained – you just … tumble upon some of it and hope it’s enough to carry you through to the end. Your exposition is … to the point of hardly being tolerable, but again it’s unneeded. A plot is unneeded. In fact, when I finished the novel, I wondered why there was a plot at all, canon at all, exposition at all (though for the latter two there was very little) because we knew the ending, didn’t we? In fact, one of my marginal notes reads: ‘What does this have to do with anything?’ – strangely, it was concerning the actual plot. I’m not saying my mind was addled but plot becomes something annoying, brushed aside – not that I found it annoying, but in the flow of the novel it becomes a bump. It’s all sex sex sex PLOT sex sex sex. The poor dear plot … I wonder, at night, if it really was a good one. Needless to say, I don’t care much since it really wasn’t and I ended up ignoring it.

Moving on though – it’s important to keep this sort of … skipping in mind. The next sort of skipping doesn’t involve prior knowledge of former novels in the series explaining it away. Instead, it’s more of a time crunch.

“As the rains outside had gentled to a fine mist, he and Isa had talked long into the early morning hours. At first, she had wanted to know about her father, but soon she was asking questions about his own life. The battles he’d fought, his family, his home – she’d wanted to hear it all.

He had wanted to know everything about her life, hoping by some small miracle he could ease his sense of guilt at having abandoned her for so long.” p. 111.

“She’d spoken last night of readying her garden and of her ongoing battle with the small animals that raided her vegetables each season. Stepping out into the sunny morning, he’d decided that building a fence would be a good logical use of his time.” p. 112

Theme here is – all of this ‘talk’ they … talk about is never actually in dialogue form. We just sort of hear that it happened. I will say – all right, by pass some boring jabber but this struck me. And it has to do with the exposition and canon as well.

It is as if the author or narrator, whichever, wants to spend as little time possible going through the details between the couple. The main point is to get them together to have rather that romantic, unoriginal sex that you can pretty much find on any fanfiction website (again with the fanfiction!).

My personal preference takes over here. I like sometimes hearing mundane things. The build up is sort of fun – but we aren’t really given it. There was potential in the conversations mentioned above, for instance, for one-liners or even just to unravel the characters more … but no. This ‘skipping’ had a strange effect of me – I wrote it down almost immediately when I noticed it. As I said, there’s plenty of novels – fantastic novels – that I have read that don’t always go word for word in dialogue but the skipping of some of this vital information is strange.

But then again, not a strange choice.

Again and again, I remind myself what I’m reading – what the formula is – what the readers want from it. It’s a high – they don’t really care about Isa’s or Robbie’s background in detail … do they?

The great thing about this being the first novel I’ve read is that it’s raised a lot of questions in my mind about what I’m going to encounter in the other books I read. Will the narrative voice be similar? Will the exposition, canon, skipping be formulaic? I just may be. Or it may not be.

As I read more, I plan to compare the novels I read. I really want to see how this formula works – not just that it gives people thrills on the beach – but why people will spend $8 on these novels (if not for an academic reason …). Is it the easy reading? Just the thrill? Do they look for anything more?

There is something lacking … lacking lacking lacking (and I need to repeat that for that is how I felt for most of the novel). Not to mention that whole Ginger mess …

Right. I’ve talked about canon. About exposition. About skipping scenes. Hopefully that was more entertaining than the last post … though, you know I like that post. I was tired as hell when writing it, but I like it. Tomorrow I’m skipping a day – obviously with packing, riding in a car for a million hours, then unpacking doesn’t leave much time – or mood – for writing a post. But there will be five posts for this novel as there will be fore each I read.

Ah – and according to my outline, I tackle the Ginger problem next.

Know what it’s time for?

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.

 

And it begins …

I’d say cue the dramatic music, but the reality is that it’s just me – sitting on my bed (which I have to leave on Wednesday sadly) typing. I prefer the quiet … the quiet once Florence + the Machine finishes up on iTunes. Which is in … well, about now. Can’t write with noise – sometimes a quiet tv but I prefer the silence.

Anyway. Not what you’re here to read. Before I get into Mayhue’s book, I’d like to take a minute to point out that I’ve graduated.

a ginger graduates

I apologize if my ginger-ness offends anyone

Also, yes. I am a ginger. I have dark hair but, as you’ll notice with pictures, the red does come out. Why is this important? Well – red hair seems to be an issue in the book I am reading for this week. But I’m not going to get into that now.

I will admit – rather freely – I have yet to finish Melissa Mayhue’s A Highlander’s Homecoming. I imagine I will once I’m done writing this post. I blame it on me staying up until 4:30 am watching the newest adaptation of Little Dorrit. Okay – I’m totally shilling here but, SEE THIS ADAPTATION! It’s really worth every minute.

The great thing is, what I really wanted to talk about doesn’t require knowledge of the ending of the novel. It has to do with structure – no, not structure of the story or even Structuralism (I’m going to wait to get through a few books before I tackle the theory – it wouldn’t make sense for me to do it with only one of the books under my belt). What I’m talking about is narrative structure.

I found this year – in my last semester of college in the fantastic Lit Theory class I took (well, that and my independent last semester – we touched on it a bit then too) – that I’m rather a fan of Bakhtin. While I can’t claim to have mastered theory (can one master it?), what I have studied about Bakhtin has peeked my interest. I am absolutely mad about narratives – narrative voices, narrative techniques – as I said in the Mini-Review of Little Dorrit, Dickens could write a phonebook and I would read it because it would be structured so well (I know that makes no sense but if you’ve ever said that you’d listen to your favorite actor read the phonebook, you know what I mean).

Since this blog isn’t asking a question – isn’t looking for something in particular – I thought the best way to go about the first post was to discuss something that evokes emotion from me. And, of course, that’s narrative structure.

When I say that I needn’t read the whole book to discuss what I think about the narrative, it’s true. The voice is established. The writing style is established. Unless someone else takes hold of the pen on the next page – this isn’t going to change. I mean, I may be taking a liberty saying it ‘can’t’ change. Perhaps what I mean is – I don’t expect it to.

My face as it usually looks when reading this novel. And I continue to remain a ginger.

The first thing about the writing style of this book that I noticed was the strange paragraph splits. As a writer myself – I like to have a single sentence or word or whatever hanging in the middle – I’m not criticizing that. What I’m more interested in is the strange splits in this novel. It isn’t that I don’t know what the author is trying to do – she’s trying to create a sort of … dun-dun-dun moment or a ohh moment – you know what I mean. Problem is: she’s doing it rather poorly.

“He rode like a madman, without care or caution, his only thought to reach Merlegh Hall before it was too late.

Before his friend Thomas MacGahan took his last gasping breath.” p.1

Okay – this may just seem very picky to you. And maybe it is. It’s a stylistic movement that’s subjective to the reader. But it was the very first thing I noticed about this novel.

Now – why on earth would that be important? I think – from that split – you can see that moment the author is trying to create. And, in my opinion, you hope she doesn’t abuse it. Splits like that can get annoying to me – but again, subjective. I think it’s the contents of the split that really matter.

But again – this is stylistic and there are more strange paragraphs splits but it isn’t going to do you or me any good to list them. You know what they are – I shan’t baby you – or bore you – with them.

I want to move on to the actual voice of the narrative. On my little notes (which I have to keep instead of always writing in the book as there is no room), I have several things written down that I wanted to include when talking about the narrative in this post:

  • Fanfiction (seen in names, characters, etc.)
  • Repetition
  • Convenience
  • Sexuality (characters/narrative seems drenched)
  • Third-Person Limited
  • Contemporary

These six notes really make up the narrative as a whole. Some of them bad, some of them actually good. But I’ll just go down the list as it is and explain them.

Fanfiction

This is something I tend to talk a lot about when commentating (or maybe it was just because the last book I gave this sort of treatment to was like reading Fanfiction …). It’s not always quality that brings this up – it’s very much content, very much character. I believe I said either in my blog or in my seminar class last semester that I am not talking down to fanfiction – yes, there are good writers out there (pity they don’t use their talent and create their own characters and whatnot), but there are defining traits that tend to sweep fanfiction into a lump (exceptions of course).

First, look at the names. While the main male protagonist – Robbie – has a somewhat normal name, the female has a rather lavish one: Isabella. I know, it’s a normal name for a girl. But, they also shorten it to: Isa. While Robbie is a nickname for Robert – Isa is rather odd for Isabella, don’t you think? Maybe not. But then … look at her character. She’s this hard working, sheep-birthing girl living in her own little cottage in Scotland in the 1200s. She speaks her mind, is lavishly beautiful.

And a ginger.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I mean to say is Isa is the ideal female protagonist. We automatically root for her because of spunk and independence. Her flaws are hardly visible. The reader latches to her. Listen to the way she handles herself:

“At the conclusion of her circuit Isa stopped and shook her head slowly before looking back toward her grandfather.

‘No. I’ll no be changing my mind. He willna do at all. I’ve no desire to take such a pitiful example of manhood to husband.'” p.66

Robbie, on the other hand, I feel as though the reader is … distant from. Not in an isolating way, though. We aren’t really meant to identify with Robbie are we? Considering the target audience – probably not. We’re only to esteem him – like him – think highly of him (oh God there I go – Robert, spot that fantastic S&S reference). Pretty much, pine for him. He talks of family, and soulmates. He has piercing blue eyes … actually, a lot of people have piercing blue eyes in this novel but more on that later. We first, of course, cling to his actions. Then, of course, his looks.

“Tendrils of dark brown hair escaped the plaid pulled snugly around his head, curving softly over his strong, whisker-shadowed jawline. His lips, slightly parted in his sleep, were full and strong, and for an instant [Isa] allowed herself to wonder how they might feel against her own.” p.93

Yeah – that’s a bit purply, I know. But the author is setting these two characters up for the reader to absolutely, without a doubt root for. And I have to say that she does succeed.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t my preferred genre and I’m not saying that to protect myself. I just say it in honesty – her absolute high regard she has her readers position the characters at works. Fanfiction-ish writing works for this sort of novel.

And just so you don’t think I’m being picky about the names – have a look at a few others: Destiny, Ramos, Adira … blimey (Caroline, how you and your friends ever read these stories aloud is beyond me – I die of laughter after the first page if I had to do an actual reading! So … bravo!).

Repetition

Subtle as it is, perhaps, the repetition in this novel is one of the aspects I don’t like. Where the fanfiction quality has a redeeming factor, almost a helpful factor to this type of novel, the repetition of … let’s say the constant ginger hate (Sarah has had to hear about this all day) is old.

By about the fifth time Robbie says something derogatory about a redhaired girl, I pretty much wanted to shout: WE GET IT! YOU DON’T LIKE REDHEADS!

And, of course, Isa is a redhead. Shock and awe right there, folks.

The other repetition that bothers me is Robbie’s qualities. More than once they mentioned him trying to find a soulmate, of trying to be a family man – oh, yeah, and that he’s a warrior. It’s overwrought. It’s annoying. Say it once and your reader will get it. Say it twice, whatever. But in only 100 pages of the book, I feel like I’ve heard it too much.

While it lends to Robbie’s character, it detracts from the writing. Isn’t there anything else about Robbie? Can’t the author tell us more? (no, is really the answer, I think, but exposition is another post entirely)

I’m not saying Robbie has no backstories – he does. But they are repeated and also repetitive in themselves when there is more than one.

Always wronged by the ginger.

WE. GET. IT.

Convenience

This, I have a huge feeling, is part of the romance novel formula. Many a time in my small margins I’ve written, how convenient. Things are just soooo coincidental (extra o’s to add to my sarcasm). Let’s see a couple examples just for the heck of it.

Set-Up: Robbie has just returned after twenty years to Scotland in the 1200s – in reality, he had been living, by magic, in the future for only nine. So, he’s not as old as he should look back in his old stomping grounds. Is this … a problem? Sure, it’s questioned but look at this:

“The MacGahan flinched as if he’d been struck. ‘Thomas told you of Elesyria?’ He shook his head as if he could hardly believe what he heard. ‘That being the case, I canna doubt yer word, MacQuarrie. I relinquish authority over Isabella to you as my son requested.” p.73

Here’s another gem:

“Isabella? The age would be about right. Thanks to the twenty years the Magic had robbed him of, Isabella should only be four or five years younger than him now.” p.59

The first obviously puts Robbie right where we all want him – with Isa. The second is a little more clever (and by clever I mean … not ‘clever’ but it serves it’s purpose). It puts Robbie at an equal age to Isabella and also removes him as being the father-figure he may have been. A guardian is something different – especially with so little an age gap.

Mayhue pretty much uses such conveniences not only to push the characters together (duh) but also to gloss over any discrepancy that could arise from the match. No. He’s not too old. No. He’s not a father-figure. Yes. He can be her lover.

Sexuality

I didn’t mean to make a pun when I wrote the narrative is drenched in it – though if you’re mind is so inclined to be in the gutter, be my guest. I’m not really talking about sex – more … feeling, emotion. The build up. Sorry.

The moment our protagonists meet – the guy and the girl first catch each other’s eyes – the narrative takes on a different form. The voice itself is the same, but the way the characters are handled changes when they are around each other. The attraction is made very well known to the reader – be it through action, a bit of a meta-narrative (a character will shout something like “Dear God!” in their mind as if there is someone listening), or just descriptions (for instance, see Robbie’s above – that is from Isa’s point of view).

And it isn’t once in a while – it’s every encounter – every encounter is tinged with this longing, waiting, wanting. And it makes the reader – I imagine – long and wait and want for them to get together. It’s not that hard to figure it out and it’s hard not to roll your eyes if this type of book isn’t your cup of tea – I’ll admit it. But, like the fanfiction, it works. Like the convenience, it works. It allows the reader to further back the couple, but also puts the idea of sex on the horizon. The author is being a tease for pages and pages – the reader just has to get to that one, final, climax of a page.

And you know what? I’m not sure what happens after those scenes.

Third-Person Limited

This is an aspect of this novel I can really appreciate. The reader is not give an all access pass to this world the author and narrator have created (and I wonder if I will find that this will be a common theme in the novels – to only be let in to certain heads). The reader spends the most time in Robbie’s and Isa’s mind – and usually the transitions are pretty good.

Marginal note: This is acutally clever.

Usually, the transitions are through some sort of appeal to the character’s mind – like the ones I mentioned in the previous section. Good God! or Blasted! or Heavens! often accompanies the switch in character. It’s a good signpost but also sort of fun when your switching during a dialogue. You have a chance to hear in and out of each of their heads.

I’ll admit, though it’s not the best book ever written, I liked this quality. We are granted access to other minds, but those are far more limited than what we are able to get from the main characters. For this type of novel (I know I keep saying that, I’ll try not to), it seems an intelligent choice.

Contemporary

This is another aspect I took issue with rather than praised. It has to do solely with the narrator’s voice and the context of the story. There seems to be an imbalance between the voice of the narrator and the story being told.

While I know several pages of the story take place in modern times, the voice doesn’t suit the story when Robbie finally goes back to the 1200s (if I’m confusing you, click on the picture of me reading the book and B&N will give you a quick summary). It is not consistent. It tries to be serious, it tries to be witty, but I cannot find the attachment between story and narrative.

I know that sounds strange, especially after I praised the third-person limited view. But have a look at this:

“Her hair hung over her shoulder, captured in a neat braid that easily reached below her waist. Wet tendrils curled around her face, framing eyes so intensely green he’d swear she wore colored contacts if he were home.” p.99

Right, we’re in Robbie’s head and obviously that’s why he can mention green contacts but … it’s tacky. If it was in Robbie’s voice and not the narrator’s, maybe it would make more sense. But in third-person limited, we are with the narrator who relates Robbie to us. The narrator seems to be a little juvenile, a little too contemporary for having to go back and forth (I mean, this isn’t the only instance, much of this opinion is based on her wording – are we to think the narrator is part of the modern world or what?).

What makes the above passage even stranger is the use of the word ‘home.’ What does Robbie consider home? I thought for a while it was Scotland in the 1200s but all of a sudden the narrator is saying it’s our present day?

These ‘contemporary’ inconsistencies are a bother – not just for narrative voice but, in a way, for characterization too. When the narrator adapts to Isa’s head, it’s still the same tone of voice, it is still rather modern.

“Well, the perfect Agnes could have her place at the table, right at the MacGahan’s elbow. Be the perfect lady. Isa didn’t care. Not one bit. Though her curiosity was piqued as to what had brought about the new seating arrangement.” p.65

I know it is incredibly silly to pick at ‘seating arrangement’ but … it’s like the ‘contacts’. The narrative voice swerves through time. If it was just Robbie … okay. But when in Isa’s mind, it’s strange. The narrative voice seems not fully developed to really have a place in time for just as she is contemporary, she’ll (and I don’t know why I’m referring to the narrator as a woman, but there you are), be a little more period. It’s an off-putting imbalance – one you’d probably have to read the book to actually pick up on (examples out of context seems strange, I can tell just reading them to myself ).

So there are my six points on the narrative of this novel. I’m sure I’ll have things to add as I go on but, as I said, the voice is established. It’s not a developed voice but the shaky voice is there nonetheless.

Bored of me yet?

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Bet you all saw that one coming. Well, as I retire for the evening (oh, look at me being all snobbish ‘retire for the evening’), I’ll read until I fall asleep. Of course, I have been working through another book – Villette by Charlotte Brontë.

Me at the end of the day ...

Don’t let the messiness confuse you – I’m loving Villette though … adjusting. I was talking to a friend the other day about the change from Dickens to Brontë and it is a rather difficult one (especially after being so immersed in Dickens). I have to get used to the different style again – not that I’m complaining. I’m a member of the Brontë Society, after all. Expect a Mini-Review of Villette around the end of May.

So – for tonight – adieu. Pass this blog around to anyone you think would be interested. Don’t hesitate to comment or email.

And I apologize, again, for being a ginger.

Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.

 

Serendipity … May 7, 2010

Well, I’ve been in this position before.

Starting a blog. Looking at the book I’m going to be ripping apart. Thinking “Oh Dear God What If I Run Out Of Things To Talk About?”

But I doubt that will be the case.

A few weeks ago, over a three or four day span, I chronicled my reading of the first Twilight book – chapter by chapter. You can find that here. My professor and I both agreed (though he voiced it and I did the agreeing) that it was beneficial. I explored the question: Why on earth is this crap so popular? And I ended up without really finding an answer, but exploring structure, theory, and whatnot. In a nutshell – no answer, but a fun exercise (even though I still maintain my detestation of Twilight). I like tearing apart texts – even bad ones.

So I had a thought.

I’m graduating. My summer is in flux – mom’s getting a divorce, where we’re living may change and that will involve A LOT of packing and arranging, I’ll probably be learning how to drive … Anyway, there isn’t much I can do besides read and write.

Not that I’m complaining.

I’d love to chronicle my experiences reading Dickens and Brontë and Gaskell and rinse and repeat – but that would just be a gushy blog of me lauding Dickens for his structure, admiring C. Brontë for her semi-sort-of biographical work, and finally reaching Gaskell, who I’ve been waiting to reading for ages. But – like I said – that would be self-indulgent and a complete bore for you to read.

So I decided to take a note from Twilight. I’d read some more bad literature – but of a different kind.

Yep. I’m going to read those trashy, bodice ripping, romance novels.

Let me make a quick disclaimer though – these novels are not the only books I’ll be reading over the summer. My plate is full with the authors I mentioned above (though I’ll probably finish reading Little Dorrit before I graduate) and a new Lit theory book coming in the mail (not to mention my own writing, subscribing to a lit journal and whatnot). Just making that clear …

A Visual: Me Reading "Little Dorrit"

Okay – so that’s done. Back to the bodice ripping.

What makes these novels different from Twilight is pretty much obvious: they aren’t works of fiction that people are venerating like a bible, unless it’s Lifetime and you’re Nora Roberts, the book will probably never be adapted into a screenplay. But – more importantly – the novels are taken more as is: trashy, gushy romance. And that is why I have more respect for these books than I ever will for Twilight. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not.

Bodice rippers are full-blown escapist books – I hardly expect to find characterization, plausible plot – anything that makes up the novels I usually read. People – women mostly, of course – read these not for the thrill of the structure or the narrative, but pretty much the thrill of the sex: the guy getting the girl and vise versa.

In no way in this blog am I planning to demean these books. In fact, I want to take a different approach than the one I took with Twilight. I’m not going to go chapter by chapter, character by character blah and blah and blah. Instead, I’m taking a book a week and subjecting it to theory and whatever else comes to mind in the … I don’t know … ‘literary realm.’ I’m not looking to answer a question like I was with the other blog – there’s no thesis, no problem to solve. I’m just … looking.

And probably over-reading – but there’s a bit of fun in that, isn’t there?

Of course, don’t worry: I’ve heard a lot of people liked the snark of my Twilight blog – that certainly won’t be missing here. When I say ‘respect,’ I don’t meant I’m going to treat these texts any less critically. (Come on – I mean, my mode of selecting these books boiled down to word choice – but more on that in a second).

So – there’s my plan. Once a week after I graduate (that is, starting the week of May 17th), one book – a few posts on the book and then a new book the next week for the whole of the summer.

Lucky for you – I’ve already got the first two week’s reading lined up – and here’s the story (no, I’m not going on a tangent – this is actually pretty interesting).

As a senior with all of her work done and graduation just … waiting to happen pretty much, my friends and I have been looking for things to do. Places to walk to, playing games out on our college green – little things, fun things. And one of these things was going to the fantastic used bookstore here in Lancaster Dogstar. It really is this great place – it’s like a little nook of wonderfulness with a great cafe across the street.

My friend Sarah and I decided to take a walk there on a particularly lovely day (meaning yesterday), when we had both finished work – everything handed in and done. My main goal: Find the trashiest book I could to kick this blog off with a good start.

Easier said than done. I think Dogstar is too classy for trashy romance (and I’m hardly going to say that’s a bad thing) and I ended up walking out with … yep, a Gaskell. North and South.

I once walked into an AT&T store for a Blackberry and came out with an iPhone so this has to be normal ...

$2 well spent.

Anyway, I thought after that experience that this was going to be hard. I mean, I knew where to find the darn genre, but to go into Barnes and Noble and pick one up? Just like that?

I need a bit thicker skin before I do that.

But today – today, Val, Caroline, Sarah and I went to Starbucks. And, thanks to a roommate who’s been eating my food, I’ve had to do a little bit of stocking up at Giant. So, I took my little cart and there was the beautiful revelation: while I couldn’t find what I was looking for in a used bookstore, there it was in multitudes – in Giant. A supermarket.

So – those words I mentioned before? I picked up a few and flipped through. I didn’t really know what to look for beyond a sort of Fabio, half-dressed cover so I made a list in my head of words. Throbbing. Bosoms. You get the picture. And, thankfully, in Giant there is self-checkout.

My first two bodice rippers were bought in complete anonymity – well, beyond the fact I whipped them out when I walked over to Starbucks for a good laugh with everyone (but I had Little Dorrit with me so I felt like I had enough ‘street lit cred’ to pull ’em out and joke).

So I named this post ‘Serendipity’ because the first book I chose just goes perfectly with the title of the blog. The title, for the curious, I came up with a few days ago. “Strip the Willow” was my favorite dance in Scotland. It’s pretty much a dance where you get swung around by big Scottish guys and get really dizzy and sometimes they spin you so fast (because they don’t realize you’re the human equivalent of an adult chihuahua) that your feet lift off the ground. Thus: Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice. The second half should be self-explanitory by now.

And now, I introduce the first novel I will be reading:

A Highlander's Homecoming by Melissa Mayhue

Yes, those are REAL sparkles on the cover. I looked at that as a confirmation that this had to be the book I started with: Scottish (like the title) and it sparkles (like my last blog)? Perfect transition. Serendipity.

Downside? This blog doesn’t officially start until the week after I graduate so there’s some time to wait – but hey – I had to give a small preview of what’s to come.

But thinking back to how I stumbled upon this novel (and the other, which will remain a surprise, of course) is interesting. I found it not in a bookstore, but a supermarket. It’s like these books are at the ready – you don’t have to make a special trip to buy them. They’re just … there. Waiting.

And throbbing.

Okay – I’m going to take that as a sign I need to wrap this intro up.

A quick few things before I go to the midnight showing of Iron Man 2: the books I use will be cited, and if you click on the image of them (such as the one above) it will take you to the B&N order page (also summary page if you’re inclined to look it up before I tackle it). I’m completely open to comments, questions, and emails – suggestions even. I don’t want to be a bore so – if you’re reading this blog, following it, whatever – speak your mind! I’m sure I’ll think of a few other things that will come up from time to time but that’s it for now so …

Bookmark this page and check back starting the 17th!

(oh, and if you can’t read the captions of the pictures, just resize the page so the pictures fit better)

And, for those familiar with my Twilight blog – I offer a:

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