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Oh Blah, Eloisa James, Very Blah On You! June 29, 2010

Yep – I decided that, for this week, I would do another novel by Eloisa James – more specifically the ‘next’ novel that follows Duchess by Night to see what a ‘continuation’ was like. And that novel is … slight drumroll …

'When the Duke Returns' - Eloisa James

I have to admit – I was a bit excited. Out of all the novels I’ve so far read, Duchess by Night has really been my favorite. Obviously, I had high expectations for the next novel, even if it dealt with the whiny Isidore and her husband, who returns to take her away from Lord Strange’s house (revisit the Duchess by Night posts if you need a refresher). Anyway – here’s where we last left Isidore in the green book:

“It was as if everything was happening in slow motion. The greatcoat was gone, and the hat was gone. Harriet had hardly time to see a great tumble of inky black hair, un-powdered and not even tied back, before he turned …

…There was a moment of utter silence in the anteroom. The duke was looking only at Isidore.

Just as Harriet was about to say something – some sort of introduction! – he swept into a extraordinarily deep bow. Her eyes fixed on his face, Isidore sank into a deep curtsy. Still without saying a word, she held out her hand.

‘My duchess, I presume,’ he said, carrying the hand up to his lips. His voice was dark and foreign, like that of a man used to speaking strange languages.” p.282

And it goes on for a bit, Isidore leaves with Cosway (the Duke) and that’s that for Duchess by Night. Now, the pink book.

“‘My duchess, I presume,’ he said catching her hand and kissing it,

Isidore managed to pull herself together enough to introduce him to Harriet, but her mind was reeling, Somehow in all her imaginings, she’d forgotten to imagine – a man.” p.9

This also goes on, but obviously we’re in Isidore’s pov, not Harriet’s anymore. I thought it was fun, the intertwining of the stories – so I really was eager to read this – just to see how that unfolded, but also the build up for the next book.

So – little did I know I wasn’t going to be a big fan of the subject of the next book. Or really a subject of this book in itself.

The obvious question is – why?

(and before I go on – I’m keeping this short – my mouth is making me really uncomfortable so I plan on sleeping most of the day away until it goes back to normal)

Anyway – why.

1. I didn’t like the relationship between Isidore and Cosway (also known as Simeon). Maybe it was because she was whiney. Maybe it because he was rather … simple. And controlling. Granted, Cosway was interesting in other ways – he himself was a virgin so new stuff there. But I wasn’t really a fan of their relationship – even in the usual happy ending.

2. It seems like the author wasn’t a huge fan either. About a third of the book doesn’t concern Isidore and Cosway at all – but instead Jemma, Elijah, and Villiers. Oh yeah – Villiers – I was really excited about seeing him again.

3. More tension was built up in the side characters, than the main characters. That is, Jemma and Villiers and Jemma and Elijah (her husband who cheated on her early in their marriage). And here’s the aspect where I really started disliking the books.

4. The subject of marriage. I’m going to make a marriage post this week, I think. While reading this book, I paid the most attention to Jemma and Villiers since there was little plot actually happening with Isidore and Cosway – there was no real ‘impediment’ to keep them apart but I’ll get to that in structure. But the subject of marriage … humph. See, when I started the book, I was very surprised to see that I was rooting for Jemma and Villiers – they had a real connection. I loved it. But then, there was this about face where Jemma decided she was falling in love with her husband Elijah (the cheater – granted, Villiers has bastard children, but there’s something charming about him). Really, I was like huh? That makes no sense. So, I pulled up the summary of the next book and found out … well, she goes get back with Elijah.

Crap.

So – is this the sanctity of marriage suddenly appearing in these novels? And why am I’m more invested in this side characters (even when talking about Duchess by Night, I remember saying that I was drawn more to Villiers than most of the characters)? Did my high expectations ruin everything?

Is there something in the formula I’m missing when it comes to marriage?

Needless to say, I was putt-off when I finished this book. I’m glad I chose it so I could talk about why I was put-off, but also disappointed that it didn’t match the craft (and it really didn’t) that was it’s predecessor.

So – things that will be talked about (in no specific order): craft and structure, the idea of marriage, the idea of impediments, and canon with ending. Believe me – it will (hopefully) all make sense once I get to it.

But – as for right now, I’m going to go get a pillow and blanket, make myself comfy and watch a film or something.

If you've never watched 'Spaced' - I completely recommend that you do.

Tomorrow … maybe two posts? Maybe one – we’ll see!

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

References

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

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

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Ginger Post: Part 4 June 16, 2010

"Vincent and the Doctor"

Okay – I’m totally shilling right now, but I sort of did that in my last post as well. Even if you’re not a Doctor Who fan like myself – try to watch “Vincent and the Doctor” – it’s written by the same writer as Love Actually and, though the monster is really rubbish, it completely worth it for everything else in the episode.

So why totally promote that episode in this post? Gingers!

As I’ve mentioned about a million times by now, in Duchess by Night we are confronted with a blonde – or as Sarah said I say it ‘blooooonnnnndddeee’ (see vlog). I have absolutely nothing against blondes, for the record.

I’m not Stephenie Meyer.

Anyway, Harriet the heroine or rather the ‘Duchess of Berrow’ isn’t so much described as blonde but as so:

“‘What about your hair?’ Isidore asked. ‘If you cut your hair now, you’ll enver be able to wear it high again.’

Harriet smiled. ‘I don’t wear it high now.’ She gestured toward her modest arrangement of curls and puffs. ‘Most of this was added by my maid this morning. My own hair barely reaches my shoulders.’

‘Very clever,’ Jemma said. ‘I keep meaning to try a hair piece.’

‘I doubt you could do it successfully,’ Harriet said. ‘Your hair is such a beautiful gold color. But mine is dull brown, and it’s easy to match.’

‘Your hair is not dull!’

Harriet shrugged. ‘Who would know, what with the hot iron and crimping and powdering? I shall positively relish being male if it means I could stop trying to straighten my hair.'” p.41-42

Did the cover lie to us? Her hair is mousy brown?

But … but the cover!

It's not perfect quality, but, even if you look it up online, the girl on the cover is blonde

Okay – let’s just check out how her hair is described in the rest of the book – after all, that was Harriet speaking. Harriet is self-depreciating – what calling herself a ‘dumpy widow’ and whatnot (but that’ll be addressed in the sexy sex post).

And before I jump into the quote, Harriet is disguising herself as a male named Mr. Cope (which will be addressed in the gender post I’m going to make later this week – I know – it seems like I’m skipping things but if I started talking about gender this post would never end – easier to take it all clump by clump). So – quote:

“There was only one word for Mr. Cope: adorable. He had curly brown hair, pulled into a simple pigtail at his neck, with just a dusting of powder.” p.51

And that’s a mix of the narrator with Jem – but mostly the narrator, I’d venture to say. So: Harriet is a brunette. Then why on the cover is she blonde?

But more importantly: how is she different from the other heroines?

First question: I have no idea. Creative license? The old adage ‘Blondes have more fun?’ I’m not really that sure. Your guess is as good as mine. For all we know, the cover could have just been chosen and slapped on – after all, Harriet is never actually in a dress like that until the very last chapters when she isn’t pretending to be male.

And to back up to If He’s Wild remember how the guy on the cover was shirtless? But the character inside was anything but ‘wild’ like that?

I’ve never really dwelled on covers for a long period of time, but I think this is a moment to do so. Obviously, there’s that other old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover.’

Does that apply to romance novels? Bodice Rippers? Fabio covers?

It just might. If I think of how I picked out the novels for this blog, a lot had to do with the covers. I remember picking out If He’s Wild because there was only a man on the cover. I picked out Duchess by Night because there was only a woman, and she was blonde (on the cover). The book I have for next week was also picked out based on the cover.

But I’m writing a blog. I’m obviously picking these out with that on my mind.

But what about the casual reader? The fan of the genre? Obviously, the summary has something to do with it. It would be silly to say not. But the cover has to mean something. How sensual is the cover? What does the cover tell us?

Do we still care about the cover once we start reading the book?

These questions just kept popping up as I read – if she’s brunette, why not make her a brunette on the cover? I’ve seen other books with brown haired girls on the cover that were just as ‘sexual’ – so why make this one blonde?

Is it just a simple gaffe? Or are we even supposed to care?

I have none of the answers to these questions – but they’re worth thinking about.

Next question: Why not a ginger?

Harriet is an odd heroine. Why is she odd, now you’re asking. She’s independent, as usual. She has a high rank – a rank that’s actually above Jem like some of the other heroines – so, she has power (a power that she actually puts to use in her duchy’s court).

But Harriet has to dress as a male to get into the party at Lord Strange. She needs to be disguised. As I mentioned before, Harriet is also self-depreciating. Some of the other characters have had qualms with themselves – but none perhaps more than Harriet. She basks in the freedom of being a man – she doesn’t feel as ‘beautiful’ as a girl.

There a question of confidence about Harriet. She’s not out helping birth sheep or killing an abusive brother-in-law. But she is taking a risk dressing as a man – but she feels more confident in that state. While those two previous heroines were doing ‘men’s work’ while obviously women – Harriet must ‘become’ a man to do so.

I’m not saying hair color alone decided this. In fact, I think that’s far from the case – James (the author, if you’ve forgotten) is an obvious fan of Shakespeare (if you look at the other titles by her, some of them are twists on Shakespeare). And this woman dressing as male is very Shakespeare – and also very Restoration (thinking Aphra Behn’s The Rover). My profs would probably murder me if I didn’t use the word carnivalesque here.

And it is carnivalesque. At Jem’s, social order is upset. A Duchess is pretending to be a male youth but order is restored by the end (when Jem comes to her at her duchy – but the way, on a personal note – I hate the word ‘duchy’). Yay.

I don’t think hair color at all has anything to do with this dressing up – but it is funny to see how the books I read keep putting redheads as these fiery, passionate girls in power while other hair colors are either protected by an uncle or dressed up as a male. It’s probably just some sort of strange pattern – I’m almost hoping the next book upsets it.

But wait! There is a ginger in this book – and guess what? She’s fiery and sexual! Ah!!

“‘Come on.’ He strode off, and she followed, to find herself bowing before the young shepherdess a moment later. She had strawberry red hair and breasts that burst from her costume. In fact, she was just the kind of woman who normally made Harriet feel miserably inconspicuous.” p.77

Oy. The constant digs at the gingers – even when they’re completely inconsequential to the plot. Like the last book – the main villain’s friend is … drumroll … ginger! So – when not the main character – we gingers really get the shaft, don’t we?

But … to quote “Vincent and the Doctor” (because I’ve been waiting to for about two weeks!):

The Ultimate Ginge ... brighter than Sunflowers ...

Yeah – I know some of you are wanting to kill me now. I’M STILL NOT OVER THE EPISODE!

Anyway. Some day this week will be a double post. Yesterday I was busy helping my aunt with her classroom and also proofing my mss (the mss THAT NEVER ENDS!) so I got a little distracted. But I’ll be back on course.

A bit of bad news? I am probably getting ill. My ears have been funky for the past few days and today I woke up congested and extremely achy (I actually brought my duvet down instead of just a blanket). I’m crossing my fingers it’s just sinuses – but I’m going to take it easy today and not double post – but expect a double post sometime this week … think of it as … a surprise. Woot.

Oh and …

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

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

 

We’re totally not going to talk about how awful the Tonys were … June 14, 2010

If I started talking about last night – aka Tony Night – I would fly into a tangent that would never end. To sum it up: Worst. Tonys. Ever.

But moving on – Eloisa James’ Duchess By Night.

The one with just the girl on the cover.

The girl that’s a blonde.

La de da de da …

la de da de da ...

I read Duchess by Night just this afternoon (since last night I was occupied … but we aren’t talking about that) and decided, what the heck, I’d read it in a day. And I will say that, by far, I think this is the best one of the bunch. Not for snark or anything like that – it was actually not too bad of a book.

It, of course, followed the usual structure and there are a lot of things I want to talk about – gender, specifically – but just in terms of storytelling, James surprised me. I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘surprised’ as if I expect these books to always be lazily written – but James really does surpass her predecessors in this blog by miles.

So – why?

First of all, there was no real secondary plot that pretended to be the plot. There was no random chapters or random breakaways to remind you: oh yeah and this is what’s happening here – don’t forget about that because it’s the reason ‘a’ and ‘b’ meet. If there was a secondary plot, I suppose you could say it belonged to the character Isidore, but it was so simple that it only served as set up and not really consequential to the rest of the story.

Secondly, you actually gave a damn about the secondary characters. Now, while I had a hard time with the male protagonist’s daughter Euegina (think Little Father Time but crazy happy and obsessed with math), I liked hearing from the other characters. They weren’t fodder. In fact, I found myself liking the character Villiers (the friend of the female protagonist – Harriet). One of my marginal notes reads “He’s too good for her.” I liked his dry wit – and his lack of over sentimentality (is that proper grammar? Whatever – I’m still reeling from … you know).

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this book gave me a lot to think about. Not just about structure or hair color – no, I felt almost like this book had a little more depth. It played with gender and gender roles – and, this taking place in the 1780s, you can tell that the author was invested in the period (down to the books her characters were reading). The period wasn’t just this backdrop to throw two attractive people against – it was interactive. And the secondary characters added to that. Also, I know I’ve spoken about the idea of position and rank in these novels and this text is no different – in fact, that is the main point the novel revolves around: gender and rank.

But I have to say – the male protagonist’s name – Justinian Strange? Yeah … no. And his nick name?

Jem (I kid you not)

Obviously – ‘Jem’ was a bit of a downside. And obviously no novel is perfect – this novel had it’s flaws. But I couldn’t deny that it was well written.

The narrative was steady – it moved nicely in and out of third person limited and free indirect discourse without the use of annoying italics at the start of paragraphs. There were rarely anachronisms in the narrative either – once and a while something would seem out of place, but otherwise it was consistent. It was something I appreciated. It didn’t seem self-indulgent as some of these novels *coughIfHesWildcough* have seemed *coughVikinginLovecough*.

It’s also important to note that this novel is also in a series like A Highlander’s Homecoming and If He’s Wild. There are more “duchess” books by James and – as with the other series novels, you get a preview of the next book at the end. And, surprisingly, I would be almost interested in reading it.

Shock. Awe. I know.

I’m going to make a note of it though, honestly. Why? Because I really haven’t explored the idea of the ‘series’ yet beyond canon. And why not explore it with a writer I happen to like? Plus, what James sort of craftily did was interweave the next story with this one – but very subtly (saving that for the sexy sex post). Also something I appreciated.

Oh sorry ... rage left over from last night ...

Anyway – I think this James’ novel will be interesting to take apart compared with the others because I think it’s one that brings to the front a lot that I have spent too much time on like gender itself (which is actually surprising) and I think I want to look more at independence in terms of power and rank – how that’s all connected.

See what a week off does?

It really refreshes the whole brain.

So – Yay! I’m back! And it’s time for …

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

(you’re a soulless person if you didn’t find that episode moving … just saying … (obviously this pertains to the PALATE CLEANSER)).

Reference

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

 

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.

 

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.