Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

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My Week Off: Vlog 2 July 11, 2010

Filed under: Vlog — Liz @ 5:05 pm
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I included a surprise in the video (hint – it’s a video … in a video!)

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My Week Off: Vlog 1 June 12, 2010

And, yep, I’m planning to do this each week I take off.

I don’t know why. I just am.

 

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).

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

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

 

We are (a very strange) family! May 28, 2010

First, and most importantly, look what grocery day brought:

PG Tips (aka TEA OF THE GODS)

To borrow the sayings from Viking in Love: Thank Thor!

So – final post on the mullet sporting Caedmon and the Viking princess Breanne. And, like last time, this is the family post.

Summation: Caedmon – The Captain VonTrapp of Sexy Vikings and Breanne – the nun (well, princess but you get the metaphor) who gives up her virginity and agrees to sleep with Caedmon for ten days so he will let her sisters stay at his house longer.

Didn’t make that last part up … any of it up, actually. The children, by the end, respond to a whistle, even. And, yes, the girls figure that, to protect themselves, they need to stay at Caedmon’s longer so that means one of them has to seduce him. OF COURSE they choose Breanne and OF COURSE Caedmon turns the tables on her and gives her that ten night offer.

What does this have to do with family then?

Well, remember Robbie from the last book? He was very invested in the idea of soulmates. He was happy to have children, yadda yadda yadda and that’s what he gets in the end.

Caedmon already has a herd of children – some of whom may not actually be his but he takes care of anyway … as best as a man with a mullet can.

Here’s one of the summaries of these children:

“‘Pfff! There were ten last time I counted, but God only knows how many are really mine. And, yea, I am certain there will be more by now.’ Caedmon had wed and buried two wives, leaving behind three legitimate children, the nine-year-old Beth and six-year-old twins Alfred and Aidan, but he had also had his fair share of unfortunately fertile mistresses and bedmates over the years. He was, after all, thirty and four. He grinned at them. ‘Can I kept it if I am a virile man?’ And dumb as dirt when it comes to keeping my cock in my breeches.” p.17-18

To be completely honest, I lose track of who is who with the children (though, can Caedmon make it through a page without referring to his penis?) – but I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is that they are, not surprisingly, all very fond of their father … or ‘father.’

“First, nine-year-old Beth launched herself at him. He caught her about her tiny waist, and she clung to him with her skinny legs wrapped half-way around his hips … One of the six-year-old twins, Alfred, or was it Aidan, clutched his thigh and held on tight, cutting off blood flow to an important region of his body.” p.29

Again with the penis. But more on that in a second.

Like Robbie, Caedmon is a teddy bear when it comes to family. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t want any more children, but with the ones he has, he’s rather sweet with. They even like to burt through the bedroom door:

“Beth blinked at him through tear-filled eyes. What? Did she want to be a princess, too? ‘Aunt Alys wants ye to wed again, Father.’

‘That is so she can flit off and ignore her responsibilities.’ Really this was a ludicrous situation. ‘And you, Hugh, what do you think?’

Hugh’s pale face turned paler, with rosy patches on his cheeks. Hugh did not like to call attention to himself, this son of his. ‘I like the Lady Breanne,’ he said, as if that had been the question.

‘Well, I am not in the market for a wife, and neither are the princesses wanting to wed.’ Leastways, he did not think so.

All their little shoulders drooped.

‘Why is there a tent behind Piers’s bottom?” Joanna inquired, cocking her head to the side to see better.

Everyone else, except for Piers, also looked to the section of the sheet over his [Caedmon’s] manpart. Oh my God! He immediately raised his knees to hide his ‘tent.’

‘Do you know nothing, Joanna?’ Oslac commented. ‘We men have morning thickenings to deal with.'” p.154

For some reason, the children also talk about sex. I guess like father like … well all ten children. It’s a bit disturbing … my reaction:

But, stepping away from the fact that these children are kinda disturbed (I mean, kids say the weirdest things but given the context of this book … does the children’s dialogue need to contain sexual stuff?) – I think they are mere plot devices.

So – not really children: plot devices.

Why? Well, it’s their little trick in the end that gets Caedmon and Breanne married. The children, first off, are very fond of Breanne. Above you can see Hugh express this and they continue to – straight to the end where it is assumed she is leaving.

“‘I like to sit on her lap.’ Six-year-old Alfred sighed.

‘Me, too.’ This from his twin Aidan.

‘She smells good.’ Mina sniffed the air as if she could actually smelly [sic] Breanne’s rose-scented soap.

‘And father wants her, too, I am convinced of that, or I would not have been involved in this.’ Hugh was the oldest and most responsible. He would be the one to suffer if the plan did not work.” p.335

Breanne also protects from bullies, gets them in order, the usual. So the kids’ plan? Sex of course!

“‘Yea, we must give Father plenty of time to tup Breanne silly so that she will want to stay with him forever.’ Kendrick thought hr knew everything about grown-up things.” p.336.

Again, the kids are plot devices: they make Caedmon from the start look like a family man, and they come in as a deus ex machina when Hill sort of traps herself in the corner of a plot. That is, all the conflicts of the novel (though again, in terms of an actual plot, we care very little) are solved, Breanne is going home, so how does one get her to stay?

The kids! On a chariot driven by dragons! Rawr!

I made that last part up.

But the kids really are a deus ex machina here. They do trap the adults, the adults do ‘tup,’ and they get caught by … well, everyone, and thus have to marry.

And what about Caedmon’s whole ‘never want to get married or have more kids’ shtick (and Breanne does feel bad because she knows the whole … shtick, of course)?

“I love you, Breanne. You are probably going to turn my home into a madhouse. You are probably never going to be biddable. You are probably going to have five daughters, just to plague me. But I live you and am proud to be your husband.” p.358

And what do we have at the end of this novel? A happy family. The parents are happy. The kids are happy. And the readers satisfied. Everything ended as it should –  just as in the previous text.

Family seems to be an important element to the end of a romance novel. And, as I’ve said many times before, I have only read two so far, but the thread of family – children, a home, etc. – is always present (even in this porno).

So, even with the crazy deus ex machina children – we get the expected ending.

Caedmon’s every present penis throbbingly thanks you for your time.

And now I am going to fix myself another cup of tea, settle in with North and South (yeah, I’ve already started reading it – so much for waiting until the weekend) or maybe give my eyes a break and watch the Bleak House mini-series. I started it again last night because – without a doubt – I am in love with Sergeant George.

I mean, come on! Look at him! How awesome is he? And a heart of freakin' gold!

Plus, I’ve watched Little Dorrit so much I think my computer will, at some point, turn against me.

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

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

 

Attack of the Mullet Italics! May 25, 2010

First off – I’ve finished decorating my little office space in my aunt’s room! Yay!

My temporary office space!

Two versions (that is, the same book with different illustrations) of Alice in Wonderland, my massive Norton, a book of Lear’s poems, Ebert’s Your Movie Sucks and one of Stephen Fry’s books – Moab is My Washpot – fit nicely to the left side. I’ve some of Charlotte Brontë’s and Lewis Carroll’s juvenilia under there too. On the chair you can see Villette. On the far left, most of my Lit Theory books along with some books on Dickens (I have too many to keep track – I realized this the other day, but I think I have more books on Jane Austen). On the far right, the annotated version of Alice with another Alice book. Then there’s my lovely lattice board with pictures of my friends and teachers and blah blah – same thing.

But – more importantly – onto the new book!

'Viking in Love' by Sandra Hill

Not only did I buy this just for the title and the fantastic mullet the dude on the cover is flaunting, but look at the back cover:

Summary? All it says: "What does it take to win the love of a Viking Princess?"

So, needless to say, I had not freaking clue what this book could be about. I mean, at least with Mayhue I was forewarned about the ‘Magic’ and the time travel. There’s none of that in this book (well, not intentionally) but I sort of had to just dive in.

Okay, when you open the book there is a … sort of summary. I wouldn’t call it so but I guess it suffices when the general reader is picking out this sort of book. I know I didn’t address this with Mayhue’s novel, but here’s the exact moment to mention it. On the back of her book, her summary was divided into two parts: the male and the female. So it is with this ‘summary’ – we get the female perspective, in the first person voice. And then we get the male in the same way. They don’t give us a summary – just a general idea of what is to come.

But it’s not reliable at all. I’m 200 pages in and can say that with easy certainty. Why? Because the voices we were on this page are far far far removed from what we encounter in the novel itself.

With the first book I read, I started talking about narrative voice – and I think that’s what I’m going to do with this novel. It’s especially important for this novel, I think since it is a different style from the last, and it’s also rather peculiar. The narrative takes on several of the aspects I talked about not only in narrative, but in dialect in the previous text.

So – let me break it down in parts like I did before – these are the things I noted when it came to the narrative of this particular text.

  • Crude sexuality
  • Free indirect discourse
  • Crisscrossing time
  • So many ‘What?’s written in my marginal notes I’ve lost count

First – Crude Sexuality.

To be blunt – I’m really sick of reading about the main male – Caedmon – and his penis. I am. We get some of the main female – Breanne – and her breasts (which, for the interested, are small compared with the rest of those at Caedmon’s house), but on every page there seems to be some sort of penis joke.

I’m not scandalized – hardly. No – to me it’s like bad, bland comedy. Poop jokes. It’s boring. That’s what makes me wonder what the desired effect of this tone is. Are we supposed to feel scandalized? Turned on? I know I’m uppity when it comes to the literature I read, but I, for some reason, cannot get caught up in this genre (yes, I know, I’ve only read two so far – but so far speaking …).

Here’s a few examples:

“‘Can I help it if I am a virile man?’ And dumb as dirt when it comes to keeping my cock in my breeches.

‘Methinks your virility is going to come back and bite you in the arse one of these days,’ Goeff said.” p.18

“Immediately her eyes fixed on a part of his naked body, which was displaying a powerful morning thickening, standing out like a flag-pole.” p.46

“And in that moment, they both realized that he had somehow landed betwixt her widespread thighs, and his favorite body part was planted smack dab up against his favorite woman’s part. And it was growing.” p.124

Seriously – the whole narrative has been like this. It hardly phases me to type it since I’ve been reading it for two days.

This is what I find intriguing though – the other novel, while in the same genre, didn’t have this crude sexuality throughout. Yes, when it came to the ‘sex scene’ it reached this sort of … intensity? But this whole novel has had this same type of sexuality throughout. It’s every page.

Caedmon’s penis is everywhere.

So now I feel like I’ve encountered two ends of the spectrum. A relatively tame narrative in A Highlander’s Homecoming and an out of control narrative in Viking in Love. The scale is, of course, able to be changed but for the moment – that is how I am going to view the sexuality in these books. It is almost as if Viking in Love needs no ‘sex scene’ – the pages are already ‘charged.’

Connecting to this idea of crude sexuality is the strange Free Indirect Discourse that occurs frequently within the novel. I spoke a lot about third-person limited in the Mayhue’s text. This isn’t written that way. Clearly, this third person narrator is … limited, but we don’t have so much access to any one character’s mind.

Until we get the Italics.

At first, I thought we were just hearing the internal voices of the two main characters. But that started to change when the words in Italics began to become … contemporary.

Look at the contrast:

“Mayhap I am getting the lung fever, too, if my tongue cannot control itself. Be still, tongue. Be still.” p.86

“And then the you-know what hit the medieval fan …” p.96

The first voice you hear is that of Caedmon – in italics, on the page. Whether I should call this free indirect discourse or just … discourse is up in the air. That is, it’s murky with the second voice (the second quote). That’s the voice that appears – in italics – of neither character.

Is it the narrator?

But if it is the narrator – why is time suddenly crisscrossing (enter here the third point)? There are points in the narrative where the single narrative voice does use words such as ”Tis’ and so on – so why sudden colloquialisms?

Doesn’t this throw the reader off?

Or are we supposed to get a chuckle?

After all – this is far from the only example. It pervades the book to the point where I’m confused as to how many narrators there are. One who sees into the characters mind and writes in italics and another who just tells the story? Or are they one in the same?

Or … is it just bad writing? Someone trying to be … clever?

Which leads me to the Whats.

I’ll admit. At times, I did laugh a little reading. Not because it has a strange narrative, but there are funny moments. Well – funny in that I really can’t believe any of it is plausible. This also brings back that idea of convenience – another note I made in the previous books.

Convenience.

What?

It all goes together – things need to fit into place – ridiculous things need to happen. Five Viking Princesses just have to kill the husband of one and flee to Caedmon’s even though he’s only a distant relative. And, of course, the only virgin in the group and the only redhead, becomes the love interest. And of course, for some reason, Caedmons has to protect them … or kick them out – I’m not that far yet but I think you can guess what happens.

Already though, things are starting to repeat. You’ll see more of that in further posts but in terms of narrative – there’s coincidence, there’s narrative changes, there’s strange time lapses. I don’t know if this will all mean anything in the end – but it’s nice to have them listed – it’s becoming a way to understand how these books are written. A bit of a glimpse into the formula of a romance novel.

And before I go to bed – PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

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

 

They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit … May 21, 2010

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.

 

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?

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Reference

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