Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

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.

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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.

 

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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