Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

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Bringing in the Lit Theory: Structuralism June 4, 2010

Well, I’m finally a little more well rested than I have been. I’m still a little wonky, but eh. I have to thank B&N.com though for making my evening – I was able to get the special edition of The Full Monty online for a mere $10 (coupons & free shipping for members -woot!).

But blah blah – serious posting time.

I’ve decided that after every three books, I talk a little about structuralism, which will of course bring in the whole point that there is a formula when writing a romance novel.

So – yay! Lit Theory day!

I'm still ashamed I spent money to see this film ... never give in to cinematic peer pressure - even if it involves MGoode

And I’ve even brought out the big guns.

What do I mean by the big guns … beyond linking you to the darn book. This – this is what I mean:

I love this book. I mean - I love it. Look at it! It's gorgeous!

The editors of this book, Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, give a brief introduction of Structuralism before they move into the essays. Oh – I love seeing my notes from class again – makes me giddy. Anyway:

“Levi-Strauss [and early Structuralist] began to see that culture, like language, is a system characterized by an internal order of interconnected parts that obey certain rules of operation. A structure is both like a skeleton and like a genetic code in that it is the principle of stability and coherence in any cultural system, while also being the principle of action that alows the culture to exist in time as a living thing.” p.54

Okay cool – so how does this apply to literature? Let’s move into John Culler’s The Linguistic Foundation.

“Structuralism is thus based, in the first instance, on the realization that if human actions or productions have a meaning there must be an underlying system of distinctions and conventions which makes this meaning possible.” p.56

I don’t want to override anyone with lit theory but breaking down Culler and applying it to literature – we pretty much have this: there are those ‘system of distinctions and conventions’ that make ‘meaning possible’ – ie: the system of distinctions and conventions are the rules that this genre follows and the meaning possible is the assigned ‘genre’ of these texts.

Every little plot device in these novels seem to support this ‘underlying system’ – a system that creates the bodice-ripper, the romance novel.

So – turning to If He’s Wild – what’s the structure? (briefly)

  1. We meet the two protagonists – Hartley is the supposed ‘rake’ (though his actions are excused by his work for the government – nah, that never really is cleared up) and Alethea, the virgin widow
  2. Hartley is taken with Alethea’s beauty, Alethea’s always felt a connection with Hartley since she’s had visions of him – they become the central focus of each other’s affections
  3. Enter impediments – Alethea and Hartley are almost killed several times, they struggle with their feelings, they realize, after these impediments, they love each other
  4. Enter family – Hartley and Alethea live happily ever after (married) with a son who has ‘healing powers’ and Hartley’s nephew and niece

I know a lot of these posts have pitted this third book against the past two – but let’s look at the structure of those past two novels in comparison.

A Highlander’s Homecoming

  1. Protagonists introduced: Robbie, time-travelling duty-bound guy and Isa, the strong willed redhead who lives on her own farm
  2. Robbie is not quick to like Isa but unwittingly does (let’s say it’s because of her spunk) and Isa, of course, takes to him eventually giving into her desires and sleeping with him – they become the focus of each other’s affections
  3. Enter impediments: there’s a land fued, Isa’s tricked into marrying some other dude, she and Robbie wrestle with their feelings but love prevails and she saves him – they go on the run and to save Robbie from dying (and Isa from a bad marriage) they go forward in time
  4. They live happily ever after in the future (married) with their new family

Viking in Love

  1. Protagonists introduced: Caedmon, a sort-of family guy and walking penis, who just wants to stop bedding girls because he gets them all pregnant, and Breanne, another strong-willed redhead that helped her sisters kill their brother-in-law
  2. Caedmon is reluctant to like Breanne as is she, and their sexual relationship starts as more of a pact, but they soon fall in love and they soon become the only object of each other’s affections
  3. Enter impediments: people wonder what happened to the murdered brother-in-law, some people come to visit Caedmon, some really random things happen that really make no sense but are still ‘impediments’ and just before her father can whisk her away from Caedmon, Breanne and Caedmon are trapped by the children and are caught ‘tupping’
  4. Caedmon and Breanne live happily ever (married) after with his kids from previous ‘tupping’ sessions and the strong probability of more children to come

So. I’ll let you put two and two together with that. There is a very strong structure that underlies all three of these novels – the only difference lays in how they are written. All of these ‘events’ or ‘signs’ as Culler would call them make up this genre (and let’s just use that word lightly).

There seems to be always two protagonists with eyes only for each other.

There seems to always be some impediment in the way that almost keeps them apart.

Somehow they overcome the impediment and live happily ever after.

Married. With a family.

“Hartley propped himself up on his elbows and stared at her ‘Alethea?’

She took his hand and placed it low on her belly. ‘Olympia told me there was a child the day we saved you, but I had no sign of it yet. Now I have. Yes, Hartley, you will become a father in seven or eight months.’

He stared at her belly, nearly completely cover by his hand, and then looked at her. It took a moment for the news to really sink into his mind, and then Hartley felt a stinging in his eyes. He blinked quickly and gently kissed the place where his child grew.” p.331-2

Always a family, always married – the endings don’t surprise me anymore but the first time I realized that this was a pattern, I was curious. Beyond the escapist sex scenes, the historical fiction, etc. – there was also this longing or wanted family at the end. It’s almost like a return to innocence or a promise that everything will be all right, everyone will be loved in the end.

It’s not so much curious as it is fascinating that all three of the novels ended this way.

So there – a post about If He’s Wild without the snark – and with a little bit of lit theory – a surprise element of structure: family, marriage – that is the happily ever after.

And passionate sex, of course – all three did end with that as well – but family ends up being the winner here – always having the last word.

So far, at least.

Now – lunch for me – and look what is waiting in the fridge!

BRIE!!!

Excitement.

Monday starts a new book – secret of course!

Have a fantastic weekend.

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

References

Culler, Jonathan. “The Linguistic Foundation.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1988, p.56-58.

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “Introduction: The Implied Order: Structuralism.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1988, p.53-55.

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A Short Exhausted Post June 3, 2010

RDJ expressing my current state (aka an excuse to post some RDJ)

I could pretty much drop over asleep right now – my mater had a doctor’s appointment so it was left to me to take care of my Gramma, who’s recovering from her total knee replacement. I’m by no means complaining, but I am extremely tired so this is a short, but sweet post – I’m just going to talk about the sensibility found in this novel.

I know in the first post I was playing around with time period. If this is indeed the 19th century and let’s say we’re in the relatively early 19th century, then the idea of sensibility fits.

Sensibility – okay, thinking of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Marianne is the ‘sensibility’ side of the novel, obviously – able to feel extreme emotion, connected with sympathy and sentiment blah blah wiki it. It’s major movement is around the turn of the 18th century, but you can see it carried over a lot in the gothic, which is probably where one could situate If He’s Wild on a very  VERY broad scale.

So – extreme emotion.

I’m not talking about the intense passion or sex – I’m talking more about the emotion I found in this novel – points were I made the marginal notes reading ’emotion’ or ‘sentiment.’

It’s present in the other two novels – but not as explicitly in this. Of course, one would almost expect to find sensibility in these novels. Remember Hartley choking up at the sight of Alethea’s naked body? Yeah – it’s that sort of over-emotional stuff I’m getting to in this post.

More tired RDJ. You're welcome.

Bringing in some quotes:

“[Iago] had made use if her sketchbook, but [Alethea] had not yet found the courage to look at what he had drawn. After what he had seen clinging to Claydette, she knew the images would be sad, even dark …

‘No, and in your heart, you know that to be true. You were right to say it has become our responsibility … I was prepared this time, but you must give me leave to suffer a moment’s weakness after the ordeal …” p.53

These ‘gifts’ are highly tied with the emotional side of the character. They become weak by the emotions they experienced – ie: huge emotional feeling, huge emotional response.

“‘His preferences?’ Alethea frowned as she tried to guess what Iago meant and then suddenly smiled as comprehension came to her. ‘Oh, you mean that he preferred men. No, I think not. I do not believe my husband ever preferred men to women. I think he had no preferences at all, actually. He had no passion in him at all, not for anything or anyone. What I had seen as a calm, even-tempered man was actually a man who was, well, dead inside. Something was missing in him, that something that makes us cry, laugh, hate, love, even fear and rage. Whether something happened to him to make him that way, we shall never know, but he may have even been born that way.” p.158-9

The quote above is Alethea talking about her late husband (with whom, obviously, she had never had sex with). The kicker of the quote is the end when she talks about what’s he was missing: all emotions, all feelings. Of course, Hartley has these feelings so he’s just what Alethea is looking for … and he’s pretty much an overemotional sap.

“Sitting in the chair by the side of the bed, he took her hand in his. In his arrogance ha had believed that when he married her, liking her, even enjoying her company and the fierce passion they shared would be enough to hold the marriage together and make it a good one. Now he needed more. He wanted her to love him as he did her.” p.212

My marginal note: Yawn.

Like the pacing of the sex scenes and the kisses, the pacing of emotion makes the characters too overwrought – reading it is like walking through thick mud and hoping you don’t lose a shoe. I don’t care about them. I want to hit them. Let’s just be blunt. I’m tired – no more metaphors. I would have rather had this Claudette person kill everyone than have the happy ending.

But more on the happy ending tomorrow. Okay?

Okay!

And for a little tangential news, I watched The Full Monty for the first time last night. I had been kind of scarred by the musical – that is, I really didn’t like the music and always associated Patrick Wilson’s ‘Artificial Flowers’ rendition with it (even though it isn’t related and is in Tenderloin). I hate that song. Hate it. Really really hate it. Anyway – all bad association until about two days ago I learned it was actually a British movie (yes, I know, it’s been out since 1997 and I never knew that – go and laugh – but you see how badly listening to it on the Sirius Broadway station affected me?). So, IMDB pretty much told me, by way of the cast list, to watch it.

And I did.

Epic.

Epic film. Great acting, great comedy, great emotions – and it makes you actually enjoy secondhand embarrassment (which I pretty much get … constantly – even talk shows give me secondhand embarrassment). I enjoyed every bit of the film, I’ll probably watch it again tonight.

Why did Broadway have to go and Americanize it? Gah. See – this is a result of what happens when you ‘Americanize’ something … just let it be …

Okay. Tangent over.

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.

 

‘If He’s Wild’ … isn’t really wild … June 2, 2010

So – a sexy sex post. As you can see by the title, Howell’s If He’s Wild actually fails to be … well … wild. Maybe it’s because last week’s book had sex practically on every page – but there was something different in this book.

The sex was uncomfortable.

And not in that ‘omg this is so raunchy!’ way that I have to fan myself and buy one of these Vera Bradley book covers:

$15? WTF?!?

But first – have a dancing cyberman (click for more dance-y dance):

Weeeeeeee!!

Yeah, don’t ask me why I felt that was needed.

Anyway.

The strange sexuality in this novel begins with a completely random kiss – and I mean random. Out of the blue. What is going on?

“‘There is one other thing that may help in your search.’ Suddenly aware of how she grabbed hold of his hands, Alethea subtly tried to pull away from him, but he ever so slightly tightened his grip., and it was enough of an invitation that she stopped. ‘Germaine was dressed as a boy.’ She nodded at his look of astonishment, ‘Her father must have thought it safer for her to do so. Even her hair was cut short, like a boy’s.’

Hartley stared at her in shock for a moment, then abruptly yanked her into his arms and kissed her. He had the fleeting thought that this was unwise, before he lost himself in the sweetness of her kiss. It was not a gentle kiss either. Startled by his action, she had gasped, and he had taken swift advantage of that, plunging his tongue into her mouth and savoring the heat of her, the taste of her. She tasted like more. He wanted to feel her soft pale skin rub against his and her body wrapped tightly around him.” p.79

My marginal note: Kiss (WHAT?)

First – just look at the language itself. He ‘plunges’ his tongue into her mouth (I’m actually laughing as I type this) and there’s this dangling sentence that I can’t even make sense of: “She tasted like more.”

What does that even mean?

It gets better – after a paragraph trying to explain the kiss (the information she gave him was just so compelling), the first thing Hartley actually says to Alethea is:

“‘I was so transfixed by her face, I missed seeing how short her hair was. I feel certain that Germaine would contrive to continue that disguise,’ he said, breaking the heavy silence that surrounded them.” p.79

Um … what? What what?

It’s like the definition of awkwardness right there. And not in a cutesy way. It’s as if the Howell was like: oh shit! Gotta have them kiss … okay … here! Here’s a good place!

At least with Isa and Robbie and Breanne and Caedmon, their first kisses were expected. They didn’t feel forced or added in. This kiss between Hartley and Alethea, though, seems ill-fit.

And that’s just the kiss.

The sex is even more awkwardly written – clunky and strange and very much of the realm of poorly written fanfiction.

“A squeak escaped her when he grabbed her, picked her up, and carried her to bed. Surprise stole her breath when he tossed her down on it. When he sprawled on top of her, she feared she would never regain that much-needed breath. A heady warmth flowed through her as his hard, strong body pressed against hers …

‘What do you think you are doing?’ she asked, unable to keep all of her sudden breathlessness out of her voice.

‘I am about to show you why you cannot leave.'” p.149

You know, just rereading this to type it is making me giggle. And it just keeps going!

“Hartley removed her shift and caught his breath so quickly he nearly choked. He had suspected that Alethea dressed in a way that disguised most of her curves, but his imagination had not come close to the reality. Her breasts were full and round, almost too much for her otherwise slim shape to hold, and they were tipped with large, dark rose aureoles, her nipples already hard and inviting. Her hips flared out …” p.150

The description of Alethea’s body literally goes on and on, crossing over to the next page. It’s a little much. Not in for it being explicit, but for it being unbelievable.

We’re supposed to believe this seducer is so taken that he chokes on his own breath? I mean, we’ve seen the guys be ‘startled’ but that sentence makes him sound wimpy. And the rest of the description is just poor – ‘his imagination had not come close to reality’? Pardon me while I roll my eyes.

The actual act of sex itself is at this same, poorly written level.

“Hartley kissed her as he began to join their bodies, her tight heat making him so eager and hungry that he had to grit his teeth to stop himself from moving too quickly. The moment he reached her maidenhead, he grasped her by the hips and thrust home. He groaned with relief to discover the shield of her innocence was a thin one, easily breeched, and eliciting inky one soft gasp from her. She quickly arched her body up toward his, helping him to sink even deeper into her heat.” p.153

In the last sexy sex post (sexy sex is a phrase I picked up from Black Books – I mention that because, funny enough, when Fran is having this conversation with her landlord, her landlord is played by the same actor who plays Krook in Bleak House – but that’s a tangent) – anyway, in the last sexy sex post, I talked a lot about the dialogue that this genre seems to create with the reader. A dialogue or discourse of pornography.

But, when I read this scene, I could not find that same connection. I felt put off by Howell’s use of language – he ‘thrust home’? – and her pacing. Notice how long it takes to get to the actual act of sex from the description of Alethea’s naked body: 3 pages. I mean, it’s not that long but it’s separated by pages just filled with incredibly purple prose. The pace of the dialogue is thrown off, the reader is interrupted, and by the time that ‘the moment’ comes, it’s a let down – not only in the way it’s written, but in the way it is presented.

It’s why I can’t stop laughing. Sure, during the previous too books I chuckled, but reading Howell’s novel, I’ve come to appreciate their talents more – I never thought about the pacing of one of these scenes and how critical it could really be, and how easily it is ruined.

So – pacing is something that’s going to come into play now in these sexy sex posts (now the official name of this type of serial post).

But, to make up for all of that – here’s some fantastic prose from Gaskell – god, I am adoring North and South.

“[Thornton] shook hands with Margaret. He knew it was the first time their hands had met, though she was perfectly unconscious of the fact.” p.214

Gah! Just that once sentence is amazing.

And because we always need a little MGoode and Mr. Whishaw in our lives:

So the movie was kinda sucky - but I'll watch it for the actors. The above is pretty good pacing, I'd say.

I think I just feel so bad for subjecting everyone to the above scenes from If He’s Wild. I’m going .gif crazy. Okay. Tomorrow: probably something to do with sentimentality but I haven’t completely decided. Be surprised.

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

References

Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.

 

A Ginger Post: Part 3 June 1, 2010

EPIC GINGER POST!

Epic Ginger Post today!

Well … ‘epic’ as in this post is going to span all three books I’ve read so far on the subject of gingers.

In my rather recent trip to B&N, I looked for Roach’s book (aka checked on my iPhone to see if it was in stock) and, of course, it wasn’t. So – have to put an order in. Simple.

Luckily, though, for this post, I’m not going to need it. This is more … compare, contrast. Since this is the first female protagonist that isn’t a ginger, I thought it would be interesting to look at how the gingers differed from a dark-haired female.

In the realm of these three books, of course. I can’t make giant claims but I think the difference I found in If He’s Wild is rather startling – or, at the least, semi-interesting to me.

So – quick reminder of the past two heroines.

Isabella (Isa) – Robbie hated redheads but ended up with her. Fiery and independent, lived on her own and spoke her mind. Ends up happy with Robbie in the future in the end.

Breanne – one of several Viking princesses that stay at Caedmon’s house while running form the murder they committed to help their sister. Breanne gives up her virginity to Caedmon in order to get protection but they fall in love, of course, and marry with family at the end.

In both of these women, we have tempers, independence, and the strong opinion that they do not need a man in their lives to make them happy, wealthy, etc.

Here’s some quotes to remind you …

A Highlander’s Homecoming

“Why couldn’t the old laird leave her in peace? He’d never once hidden the fact that he had no use for her. He’d been overjoyed when she broached the subject if moving from the castle to live out here in this little cottage of her own. It had taken him no time at all to have his men build an animal shed and provide her with her own chickens and goats. Granted, he sent someone to check on her each month, but it was obvious to her he did so only to collect the goods she had to sell. Or perhaps out of a sense of guilt.” p.52

“Wild red hair, looking as if it had never been tamed or even washed, surrounded her, curling wetly down her shoulders like a filthy cape. It hung in clumps in front of her face, hiding her features from all but those who might venture close.” p.61

Viking in Love

“Breanne’s calloused hands kept snagging on the silk threads, and she swore under her breath for about the hundredth time since they had buried the hated earl. Truly she was much more at home building things with wood than engaging in the womanly arts. From a young age, studying a piece of wood, she saw visions in her head of what it could become. Same was true of buildings. Thus, of her very capable hands had born benches, bedsteads, trestle tables, pretty garden fences, even a pigsty one time, with finely carved runic symbols along its eaves. Her father had nigh had a falling fit at that one.” p.21

“It was she who squeezed his hand then as she leaned slightly against him. She probably did not realize her body pressed against his side, from upper arms to thighs. The faint rose scent wafted up to him from her hair. He had never been overfond of red-haired women, but hers was amazing, taking on different lights through the day, from darkish blonde to deep crimson.” p.142

And now – away with the gingers!

To Alethea.

Here’s her description, first off:

“She was small, dainty, and dark. Thick black hair held a gloss of blue beneath the candlelight was done up in a severe style, with only a few curls dangling to soften the look, but it was a style that suited her small, faintly heart-shaped face. The ivory tone of her skin next to her thick dark hair reminded him strongly of a cameo, for her features were soft perfection, as if carved with an expert hand.” p.19

Obviously, Alethea is not helping a sheep give birth like Isa or killing some evil dude and making woodcarvings like Breanne. Instead, she’s this dainty little ivory mouse with dark hair. She is more similar to Vana in Viking in Love.

“Ofttimes referred to as Vana the White because of her Icelandic white-blonde hair, she had more than earned that title today with her fair, deadly white skin contrasted against a blackened eye and cracked lip, seeping with blood. The fingermarks about her neck, old and new, resembled a black and blue and yellow torque.” p.3

Sure, Alethea has those ‘gifts’ that she does put to use. The gifts stand in as Alethea’s independence, her power. She does have some inherited wealth, but Alethea, like Vana, needs a protector more than just her lover (thus, enter her uncle Iago).

And, also like Vana, she gets beat up and bruised.

“‘He said he was giving me a warning.’ It hurt to talk but Alethea suspected it would hurt even more so very soon. There was so much pain in her face; she suspected her attacker had hit her again even as she was sinking into unconsciousness from the first blow. She was sure it was already swelling and had the brief, vain thought that she must look terrible.

‘I know. I heard him. I was trying to slip up behind him, as I was not sure if he had a weapon.’

‘Just his fists.’ She started to sit up on her own, fighting the inclination yo stay in Hartley’s arms, and gasped aloud at the pain that shot through her side.” p.111

I’m not saying that hair color is the be all end all of protecting yourself or being independent but it is interesting that the first non-ginger I’ve encountered is a complete damsel in distress compared to the other heroines.

Question is: would we feel differently towards Alethea if she had red hair? Would we expect her to fight back? Or am I taking the whole ‘hair color’ too far?

And more to question: taking out the whole concept of hair color – how exactly do we feel towards Alethea? If we took away her ‘gift’ what sort of heroine would she be? Well … I don’t think she’d be a heroine at all. She needs the addition of a ‘gift’ to give her that extra umph.

Maybe then, in Isa’s and Breanna’s cases, their gift is their hair. It’s not an actual plot ‘gift’ but it is something that seems to add something to their characters.

This is all speculation, obviously. But it will be interesting to see how another different heroine (that is, not a redhead) is portrayed? Damsel in distress? Or kick-ass woodcarving, running her own farm girl?

And, for your consideration, a TFLN that Caroline posted on my Facebook:

(519): i finally watched harry potter… a tad unrealistic if you ask me… i mean a ginger kid with 2 friends?

FIERCE GINGER PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

References

Hill, Sandra. Viking in Love. New York: Avon Books, 2010.

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.

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

 

For I Have Crossed the Rubicon! May 31, 2010

Barnes and Noble - My Mecca

Yes, I’ve done it. I went to the ‘Romance’ section in Barnes & Noble. Purchased two books. And had enough courage to go up and buy them.

Of course – I also bought Eliot’s Middlemarch and Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop so maybe I cheated (punishment being my new Dickens has no footnotes … again).

I can't just walk into that store and buy two trashy novels! Come on!

And to turn into a fashion blog for a mo’ – here’s the link where you can buy the dress I’m wearing. I am kind of obsessed with it – it’s all … flow-y and fun. (And yes, the room I share with mom in NY is covered with my LOTR posters from my high school years. Slowly, they’ve been falling off the walls but I haven’t made the actual attempt to actually take them down). Nostalgia, I guess.

Anyway. New week. New book. And oh god how I hated this one. I forced myself to read it in a day because I couldn’t imagine reading it longer (plus, I’m absolutely in love with North and South at the moment). Was it the romance? No. Was it too crude? No.

It was simply: boring.

Boring to the point where I would fall asleep. Boring to the point where I wondered why on earth this wasn’t just on FanFiction.net where one could be reading some crazy slash story, instead – that would probably be more entertaining to pick apart.

But I’ll get to the specifics in a moment. This week the book is – dun dun dun dun:

Hannah Howell's 'If He's Wild'

I picked out this book (at Walmart – the B&N books are for the next two weeks) for one reason: there was only a guy on the cover. Even under the sale sticker where that little lighted window is, there is no woman (if you don’t believe me, click on the picture where B&N will show you an unmarked cover). I wanted to sort of run a test – how important was the cover, first of all, to the novel. Also, would a redhead pop up? Would she be the heroine? The answer to the first two questions is – yes. The third, though, is no.

The heroine, for the first time, was not a redhead. I was a little surprised, but happy at the same time because it gave me more to question. A ginger is in the novel itself (and of course, it will make for a good ginger post), but she is not a main character. And, if the heroine isn’t a ginger – how will she be portrayed? The same way? Differently?

Does hair color really make that much of a difference?

Okay – this isn’t the ginger post. I want to start off, as usual, talking about the narrative voice because I think it really is important to situate where the narrator stands before getting further into the novel.

The narrative voice is very similar to what we have encountered before. It’s third-person limited with moments of free-indirect discourse. What I did like about this narrative was the use of practically no italicized thoughts. Everything was set in ‘regular’ save a few little things.

What I did not like about this narrative voice, though, was the way the story was told, the exposition, the way the characters were portrayed – and some of this actually ties back to the cover.

So what do I mean by the way the story is told? First of all, this is another series book, much like Mayhue’s. Apparently Howell’s written several ‘If He’s <insert sultry adjective here>’ and has also written about the families used in this novel. There’s a canon – which is easy enough to catch on to.

In a nutshell: Alethea (the dark-haired protagonist) is a virgin widow living with her uncle Iago (can’t make these names up). She has visions of this man named Hartley and of his possible death so they try to warn him. He’s known as a rake but surprise surprise, he’s only bedding women for information for the government. Really, that has nothing to do with anything. For some reason, his niece and nephew were almost killed so Alethea helps him find them, he marries her oddly (we’ll get to the oddly sometime later – in the sexy sex post), then they go back to the original plot and everything tries to resolve itself (with the help of some deus ex machinas), and Hartley and Aletha live happily ever after.

Convenience dominants this novel – especially in the beginning. The narrator fails to portray human doubt. Things are just … accepted. Alethea’s gift to see these visions? Sure, they’re questioned, but she’s trusted pretty much off the bat once she shakily convinces Hartley and his gang of her powers.

“‘I have no wonderfully logical or scientific explanation got my gift. It just is … Since it was given to me, I feel it is my duty to heed it. It told me that you were going to be kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. From what little I have learned this night, I still believe in what I saw. Since, I suspect, you know more than we do, I would think you would at least consider the possibility that I am right, If you will not, it does not signify. If you do nothing, it is still my responsibility to try to ensure that my vision does not prove to be an accurate prophesy.’

‘Makes sense to me,’ said Aldus as he and Gifford retook their seats.” p.45

Yeah, I wasn’t too fond of – Yay! We all believe her! She makes total sense! Look at those convulsions she goes into when she has ‘visions’! Ooooo! Ahhhh!

The narrator quickly whisks over any conflict that believing in this ‘gift’ of Althea’s could cause. It’s so quickly taken as fact, I swore from the first twenty or so pages I really was reading fanfiction. It was self-indulgent – the heroine had this great amazing gift, she was also too perfect, then of course twice she finds herself almost getting killed then being saved by Hartley.

Hello Miss Mary Sue.

Another fanfiction quality of this story was really the amount of times Alethea’s character suffered. She is this innocent girl, early twenties, and gets beaten, shot, etc. It’s common for a lot of fanfic writers to torture their characters – I don’t know why but there it is. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It gives not only a chance to gain sympathy for the character, but also bedside scenes were the hero of the novel can sit beside her and whimper while the other characters make whispered remarks on how much he must love her.

It’s annoying.

And I felt like that was what the whole novel was – someone getting hurt, someone sitting by their bedside, promising retribution. Blah.

And then there is the exposition. While I didn’t have trouble catching on to the canon – I sort of like stories that begin in medias res, so I didn’t feel as though I was lacking too much so far as series canon – I actually had trouble catching on to the time period. We were never told when the story takes place – pretty much just that it’s in London.

Whoop.

So me being the awful time period freak I am, I just had to pay hopeful attention that something would give me a clue. I figured since they used the word rake so much it was around the 18th and 19th century and since when the danced it seemed to be more of a couple-ly thing (rather than line dancing), that would be more 19th century, I think (waltzing, if I’m not mistaken, became popular then – but I read that a long while ago and I don’t write ballroom scenes often so I could be wrong). Anyway, I guessed this was probably the 19th century (especially with what Alethea got from her husband’s death). So, maybe I liked solving the puzzle (okay, I did) but what does that say about the narrator? The setup? Why don’t we know this simple fact?

This leaves us with the characters. Beyond the self-indulgent female protagonist, the passionless male protagonist Hartley is just boring – and he isn’t the ‘rake’ everyone thinks he is. That’s why the cover confuses me – it’s not as though he is running around sleeping with everyone and needs to be tamed or she needs to be – both of them are level headed (beyond the supernatural gift Alethea has) and just flat characters. As are the rest of the lot. There is so much explaining of the gifts (I mean, pages of just ‘this works this way, he has this gift she has this one) and cooing over being rescued that the characters sort of self-destruct into boredom.

Mix with that a plot that I think the narrator wants the reader to take incredibly seriously – I mean, the book feels heavy-handed on a rather non-existant plot by explaining all these gifts and how they’ll work – the characters beyond the Mary Sue Alethea take a backseat.

I once called Twilight a self-indulgent mess of a book. While If He’s Wild isn’t in that league of horribleness, it is still poorly written and incredibly self-indulgent mini-mess.

Once I started - I had to finish it. Pencil in hand.

And so no one asks me again, North and South is NOT about the Civil War, but about industry vs. the country in England (ie: the north and the south of England).

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Reference

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.