Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

So that thing called ‘Marriage’ July 3, 2010

Pretty much how I communicated my thoughts after I finished reading ...

In the previous post, I gave you a little taste of Jemma and Villiers’ fantastic sort of relationship with each other. I liked Villiers in the last book and I really liked him in this book – as well as Jemma … for a few hundred pages.

There was a strange turn that Jemma’s character takes … and it may have something to do with this:

Say WHAT now?

Jemma and Elijah? Yeah, we get the foreshadowing in this book – but the foreshadowing comes rather … all of a sudden. But wait – let me give you the summary of the next book so you can see where I’m going:

“Wedding bells celebrating the arranged marriage between the lovely Duchess of Beaumont and her staid, imperturbable duke had scarcely fallen silent when a shocking discovery sent Jemma running from the ducal mansion. For the next nine years she cavorted abroad, creating one delicious scandal after another (if one is to believe the rumors).

Elijah, Duke of Beaumont, did believe those rumors.

But the handsome duke needs an heir, so he summons his seductive wife home. Jemma laughs at Elijah’s cool eyes and icy heart—but to her secret shock, she doesn’t share his feelings. In fact, she wants the impossible: her husband’s heart at her feet.

But what manner of seduction will make a man fall desperately in love…with his own wife?”

No … just … no no no.

Let’s recall: Elijah is a cheater. What’s with this sudden – ‘I’m falling in love with my own wife’?

And it gets worse. I kid you not. The book about Jemma and Elijah is followed by another about Villiers and some other girl.

Leopold Dautry, the notorious Duke of Villiers, must wed quickly and nobly—and his choices, alas, are few. The Duke of Montague’s daughter, Eleanor, is exquisitely beautiful and fiercely intelligent. Villiers betroths himself to her without further ado.

After all, no other woman really qualifies.

Lisette, the outspoken daughter of the Duke of Gilner, cares nothing for clothing or decorum. She’s engaged to another man, and doesn’t give a fig for status or title. Half the ton believes Lisette mad—and Villiers is inclined to agree.

Torn between logic and passion, between intelligence and the imagination, Villiers finds himself drawn to the very edge of impropriety. But it is not until he’s in a duel to the death, fighting for the reputation of the woman he loves, that Villiers finally realizes that the greatest risk may not be in the dueling field…

But in the bedroom. And the heart.

What? WHAT!

Even the Doctor doesn't approve.

Okay  – right now you’re probably accusing me of just being a sore ‘shipper’ – mad because the characters I actually liked didn’t get together. But that really isn’t it. Granted, maybe it is a little – but I’m looking at through through the lens of structuralism, which I’ve dealt with before.

In summation:

1. protagonists meet

2. protagonists fall in love

3. impediment

4. impediment solved

5. Family! Marriage! Woot!

Or … un-woot here. Jemma returns to Elijah when it’s rather clear in this novel that Villiers is in love with her – and her with him.

Until a dues ex machina or really just a change in the narrator’s tone realizes that this could upset Jemma’s already set marriage.

“Jemma blinked at him. She fully expected him to say that he had to work. To read those documents that he was always reading, even at the supper table. ‘You mean -‘

He held out his arm. ‘I have decided not to work in the evenings. I am at your command, duchess.’

‘Oh,’ Jemma said, rather uncertainly.

They strolled toward the drawing room. ‘I suppose the soiree,’ Jemma said, deciding. ‘I should like to dance.’ She was wearing a new dress, a delicious gown of figured pale yellow satin with a pattern of tiny green leaves. Her skirts were trimmed with double flounces and rather shorter than in the previous year.

Elijah looked down at her with a smile in his eyes.

‘Yes, I am wearing a new gown and I should like to show it off,’ she told him, thinking that there were nice aspects to having been married so long.

‘The hem reveals a delectable bit of your slipper,’ he said gravely.

‘You noticed!’ she stuck out her toe. She wore yelled slippers with very high heels, ornamented with a cunning little rose.

‘Yellow roses,’ he said, ‘are not nearly as rare as a perfect ankle like yours, Jemma.'” p.127

I’m sorry but he sounds like an idiot trying to gain brownie points with a woman who’s obvious emotionally conflicted. I think it’s a little contrived. And it goes on like this until Jemma decides that she does want her husband – but Villiers is still willing to do whatever she asks. And whatever Elijah asks, too, seeing as he seems to be dying.

Now that would have been perfect – kill Elijah and let Villiers and Jemma be happy together. Why not? The characters are both flawed and it really seems like they could ‘fix’ each other, so to say.

But no – for some reason, there has to be a set protection around an already existing marriage – that of Jemma and Elijah. Wouldn’t it be a little more interesting to disrupt the structure a little (I mean, Elijah’s death could easily be an impediment, if you really want to stick with it), and put two compatible characters together, rather than protect an already ruined marriage?

I really think that Jemma is being taken advantage of by Elijah – another thing that disturbed me in the book beyond the ‘impediment’ element being control between Isidore and Cosway. Obviously, Jemma is confused when her husband starts giving her attention – something she’s always wanted. But what if it really isn’t good for her?

I’m sorry, but I cried foul when I read this book. There was nothing romantic about fighting for power in a marriage, or watching a woman who seems happy with someone just as flawed as her become confused due to her cheating husband … who is dying and won’t tell her …

I mean … wtf?

I think this is what really underlines the reason I didn’t care for this book. There were too many things I took issue with on a very base level – control (even if we’re talking period) and emotional stress or even abuse (because I really think that Elijah – while he may love Jemma, sure – is playing off her old hope that he would come and get her) isn’t something I’d want to read.

Is it just because of marriage? Oi.

Again – take it with a pinch of Twatlight.

Oh – and a week off! Yay!

Sorry I was incredibly bitter towards this book – or maybe you preferred it. Who knows?

I shall be back in a week with a rather … unique? book.

lalalalala ...

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Reference (if not linked)

James, Eloisa. When the Duke Returns. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

 

The Post in which I Get Tired of Happy Endings June 18, 2010

It appears! The RDJ .gif I was going to use in the Title and Rank post!

Okay. I have to admit.

I see the pattern, duh.

But I’m really sick of the constant happy family ending.

As you probably guessed – Jem is a family man at heart, raising his daughter Little Father – sorry, Eugenia on his own. In fact, she gets her own little subplot where she is bit by a rat and suffers from rat-bite fever.

Shock and awe that this is another chance for Jem and Harriet (now known to Jem and Eugenia as a woman) to bond. Over a child.

Okay. That’s fine. So Harriet, in marrying Jem, becomes Eugenie’s mother. Saw that from the beginning.

But the epilogue?

“‘Where do you suppose this baby came from?’ he said wonderingly.

‘The usual places.’ He loved her laugh.

‘But we were married for years without children. And then Colin, and now -‘

‘I didn’t think I could.’

Under his hand was just the smallest flutter of life. ‘I never used to cry, not a single damp eye, before I met you,’ he said accusingly.

She kissed him until he didn’t feel sentimental anymore, just hungry. But he didn’t want to wear Harriet out, so he didn’t follow that kiss to its natural conclusion.” p.365

Yep. They have their own baby and another is on the way.

Curb my enthusiasm.

But this doesn’t make sense. We’ve learned that this novel takes place in the 1780s right? And at the start, Harriet is twenty-seven. Jem is thirty. Eugenia is eight. In the epilogue, Eugenia is in her teens (she’s come out) so that means that Harriet has to be somewhere in her mid thirties.

And it’s 1780. I don’t know – I feel like the author is playing with fire here. Especially since Eugenie almost dies of rat-bite fever – sickness was easy to come by. To give birth in her thirties seems a little troublesome – but then again – maybe not so much. I guess we can just chalk that up to the masculine side of Harriet.

But I’m going to speak plainly here. I did not want this book to end with a happy family. Marriage? Sure. Family unit? Sure. But a new baby and another on the way?

Simply: I felt that Harriet’s masculinity was taken away. She had this great side to her for over three hundred pages then all of a sudden … she’s a mother and pregnant. She still has her streak of independence, of course (we hear about her riding from Jem as well as her wearing breaches when she rides), but I just felt that in this moment, Harriet was de-masculinized.

I won’t even comment on Jem getting teary. We’ve seen in pretty much every novel before this that the men get this sentimental streak in them by the end of the novel so it isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s part of the formula. I don’t even think I’d bring my gender argument into this part because it’s so hackneyed that his ‘weepiness’ was just expected.

Happy family, remember?

So – my question: is there a book out there that ends with the protagonists going off on a new adventure rather than settling?

Is there something else to look forward to?

Sure, for the first few books, the ending was satisfying but now … now, I want something different. You can always change aspects of the formula  – but the structure of it remains. Can’t adventure be substituted for ‘happy family?’

I don’t mean that I expected Harriet and Jem to explore the world – they didn’t seem the type – but what about the characters like Breanne and Caedmon from Viking in Love who seem to be?

So – until I find that – my reactions to the family-endings of these novels is going to be something like Ned’s:

Yeah ... no.

I was going to used a bummed Ron and Hermione (from PS even!) but I miss Pushing Daisies and I don’t want to think about how principle photography finished on Harry Potter a few days ago.

I still remember where I was when I first saw Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint in a picture together – I was at my friend Sandy’s house using the computer – the picture took forever to load and the background was a the usual logo in tile effect. I remember how excited we were. And that was so many years ago …

End of an era … my childhood is really dying next year with the last film (though, it really did probably end with the final book – I’m giving it one last stretch).

Anyway – enough about HP.

Next week book looks … well … it looks interesting in an interesting way.

Have a great weekend!

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Reference

James, Eloisa. Duchess By Night. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

 

A Gender (not Ginger) Post

After the disappointment that was my earlier post on rank and title (I’m still reeling – it was really good but then I told myself … well, after a few more books it will be better so maybe it was WordPress telling you to hold off on that for now – at least you got the general ideas I was trying to word), I’ve decided to do the gender post tonight because … well, I just feel like being a little academic at the moment.

I know you're hardly as shocked as this AVPM .gif - but look at that boss poster!

Seriously, if you’ve never watched A Very Potter Musical on Youtube, click the .gif above and you’ll be taken to it. I have it on my iPhone – yeah, it’s ‘totally awesome.’

But – anyway. Gender. (And you totally know I just went and watched a part of AVPM).

It’s strange I’ve never really addressed this in the beginning. I guess I thought it was pretty straight forward. It wasn’t until Duchess by Night that I felt like I finally had meat to work with concerning gender.

Harriet is fantastically androgynous – I say fantastically because it really is well … fantastic because it’s different. Under the guise of self-depreciation, we have a woman that can play herself off as a male and even think that she looks better as a male.

“‘[Harriet] need offer no proof of her courage,’ Villiers said. ‘Please recall that she just carried a goose into the ballroom while wearing a nightgown. One doubts Saint George exhibited such steel while setting out to fight the dragon. Yet I am not certain …’ His eyes rested thoughtfully on her chest.

Raising her chin, Harriet reached insider her voluminous sleeves and pulled out a rolled woolen stocking. And another. A third and fourth.

Then she flattened the fabric against her chest. ‘I think,’ she said coolly, ‘that I shall look very well as a man.’

‘Indeed,’ Villiers said. ‘The idea has possibilities.’ p.31

“Actually, her legs looked shapely and strong. The truth was that while Harriet always felt smothered in women’s clothing, she was starting to think that she looked just right in breeches. Her body was a kind built for endurance, with muscles in her legs that came from the way she walked for miles after breakfast.” p.58

“The odd thing is, Harriet, that you do look masculine. I mean that you look perfectly feminine and delectable in a gown, but there’s something, oh, out-doors-ish about you at the moment. I really wouldn’t guess that you were a woman in a man’s costume. I wonder if I could get away with it.” p.59

“And he [Harriet] didn’t look too sissy in a riding jacket. He looked delicate in some lights, but he had a good strong chin. The real problem was his eyes. What man had eyes of burned velvet brown?” p.105

“‘No back talk from you, young Harry,” he said. ‘What is your name, by the way?’

‘Harriet.’

She saw the name settle in his mind, grow into a smile. ‘I like it,’ he said.

‘I like Harry better.’ p.219-220

Harriet even talks about having her own wardrobe altered by Villier’s tailor to take on this new side of her. In a way, Harriet is embracing this masculine side of her. In fact, I felt odd when, at the end, she appears with her hair done up and a dress on.

“Harriet was exquisite as a woman. Her hair was piled on her head, all the curls tamed. In a gown she was even more sensual than in breeches. Now she didn’t have a cravat under her chin, but a gown that plunged in front to show her creamy skin, her small waist … her gown’s billowing skirts made [Jem] long to tip her over, uncover her secrets.” p.349

Let’s even take a look at the name – look how easily Harriet turns into Harry. Even Jem’s name is a somewhat effeminate form of Justinian. So what’s happening here?

Lit f-ing theory time.

Let’s bring in Cixous – poststructuralist feminist theory, okay?

Briefly, in my lit theory course, we wrestled with one of her essays. We were told to read it as we’d read a piece of literature rather than theory and that was helpful – but what it came down to was: there is this sort of voice where females embrace their masculinity and males are afraid to embrace their femininity – you need to embrace both sides though to be a sort of whole being (I’m doing this from memory – if I’m wrong – jump in and correct me).

Anyway – you can see this in Duchess by Night. Harriet is fully ready to embrace this side of herself. But, as one suspects, Jem is not eager to accept he may have feelings for his own sex – a passion for it, a feminine feeling for argument’s sake.

Remember his comment on her velvet brown eyes above?

“Jem ground his teeth. Cope practically coo’ed his little retort.

He should go upstairs right now and tell Villiers that there was no way he could turn a moon-calf into a bull. But Cope was walking up the stairs And the odd thing was that Jem actually liked him.” p.105

“Jem snorted, but, on the other hand, he didn’t want to be alone with Cope. God forbid he should find himself in another discussion of hair color. Not that it was Cope’s fault exactly, but he just seemed to bring out a side of Jem that – that –

Didn’t exist.” p.109

Unlike Jem, Harriet doesn’t mind being alone with women or even chatting to them – she thinks twice, of course, but is able to carry her masculine side out just fine – telling a girl, when they are alone, that she is a eunuch. Harriet isn’t as afraid as Jem to ‘play’ with that side – yes, she’s apprehensive – but she goes further than him.

Jem only becomes comfortable around Harriet when he knows she is a female. The reader, in a moment of dramatic irony if you didn’t catch the Latin bit (when she doesn’t understand Villier’s conversation with Jem in Latin, Jem confirms in his mind that she’s a girl – he reveals this to her during sex), is surprised when during a fencing lesson where Jem is treating her like Harry, he begins to strip her with his sword (wow, that could be a total metaphor, but I won’t go there) and taunt her in a language he really would never have used if she was male and he was attracted to her/him.

It’s Jem being cocky – but revealing his insecurity.

“‘Women are so boring,’ he said softly, his thumb rubbing the line of her jaw. She jerked her head away. ‘I had no idea how arousing it was to fence with someone … with you. It made up my mind. I never thought I was that sort of man, but for you, with you, I’m going into new territory.’

‘Not with me,’ she said though [sic] clenched teeth. ‘I’m not interested.’

‘No!’ she spat.” p.216

After stringing her along, Jem does reveal that he knows her secret. But look at how cocky he suddenly is above. Would he really embrace that side of himself, if Harriet wasn’t a woman?

Yes, this is also the sex post – but the sex is just normal in this text. It’s nothing we haven’t seen in the others. What I really wanted to focus on though was the role gender played.

It’s interesting to note – I spoke of carnivalesque I believe in my ginger post … or maybe the post that was lost (wiki it if so) and in the end things do go back to normal. Harriet resumes her role as does Jem (though, of course, they marry) – but some strange gender balance is restored.

Harriet becomes a mother.

Jem the proud father.

And his daughter Eugenia now at the age to be courted.

But for a couple hundred pages, we get to see this strange play of gender and sex – and it was interesting – it’s something I could really only hope to find when reading these books. Not to demean them or anything – this book was rich pickings for things to talk about – and none of them completely negative … well, until we get to the family bit.

Yeah! word count is at 1383 – finally, I feel accomplished.

WOOT!

Now for a …

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Reference

James, Eloisa. Duchess By Night. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

 

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.

 

And it begins … May 18, 2010

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?

How about a palate cleanser? CLICK ME!

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.