Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Sunday, 15 March 2009

KLEYPAS DOES WUTHERING HEIGHTS

OR: SEDUCE ME AT SUNRISE

Passion and angst seethe in equal measure from the tortured hero of Lisa Kleypas’s latest historical. Kev Merripen is a gypsy taken in by the generous and loving Hathaway family when his own tribe left him for dead. Feral, miserable, sullen and instinctively violent, the only light in Kev’s black existence is the beautiful and angelic Winnifred Hathaway. Despite the strong connection between them, Kev is determined to keep their relationship platonic, for Winifred is an invalid. Moreover, Kev hates himself (no low-born Kleypas hero thinks he’s good enough for the pure-bred Kleypas heroine…) and doesn’t consider himself worthy of Win.

Of course, Winifred is equally in love with Kev, and so she resolves to get better and win him over. The story takes off when Winifred returns from a two-year sojourn in a French clinic, restored to rude health and towing with her a handsome and admiring doctor…

For all that Kev Merripen is a larger than life, angst-ridden hero very much in the mould of Heathcliff, for me, Winifred is the standout character. Despite her delicate frame, fragility and ‘purity of character’– this girl is a total minx. In the first chapter alone she has maneovered Kev into kissing her and then – seconds later – she’s groping his man-bits like a seasoned pro. Honestly, at times, it’s as though Kev is the delicate virgin.

With such a decisive, take-charge heroine and a completely bonkers (though endearingly so) hero, there’s plenty to like here. Let’s say, 85% of this book is excellent and deserves praise for it’s relatively fresh storyline (it’s unusual, I think, in a romance when both characters are completely and intensely in love right from the beginning). On top of that Kleypas is amusing and deft with her plotting - I read this book in one sitting.

So, naturally, I’m just going to concentrate on the negatives.

Once in a lifetime love…

For this story to really work, we have to believe that Kev and Winifred are soulmates – connected powerfully, almost preternaturally. Their passion must be surpassing; one cannot live without the other. This is done wonderfully by Kleypas – when Win is close to death, Kev is pretty much on the brink of ending his own existence, Romeo and Juliet style (see: bonkers). They are both given to grand declarations –

“I love you,” she said, wretchedly. “And if I were well, no power on earth could keep me away from you. If I were well, I would take you into my bed, and I would show you as much passion as any woman could -”


and

He jerked her upward. “All the fires of hell could burn for a thousand years and it wouldn’t equal what I feel for you in one minute of the day. I love you so much there is no pleasure in it. Nothing but torment."


When they kiss and mess around, it’s suitably hot and theatrical. But the effect is diluted considerably by the fact that there are at least four other couples who feel exactly the same way. How are we supposed to believe in the rabid, all-consuming, once-in-a-lifetime, Heathcliff-on-the-moors type love when everyone’s at it? It becomes a little – yes, pedestrian.

And therein lies my second gripe. The recurring couples from previous novels – AKA the Authorial Cash Cow.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m one of those readers who is quite happy to leave a couple to their happy ever after – no drippy epilogue for me, thank you. I’ve enjoyed the journey, but I’m happy to get off the train once everything is neatly tied up. So it’s endlessly boring for me when characters from previous books turn up blissfully in love, often swelling with child, sharing tender looks and having (totally boring) sex, and generally chewing up the scenery – because here’s the thing: I don’t care. You’re married, you’re happy, you’re boring. Where’s the drama? Where’s the tension, where’s the story progression?

At best, it’s indulgent. At worst, it’s cynical.

I’m talking to you, SEP, Laurens, Kleypas, Balogh and [insert culprit of your choice].

The only time I would be interested if there was trouble in paradise.

Or is it just me?

Anyway, a B+ and a thank you to Ms Kleypas for such a pleasant first step back into romance.

11 comments:

Laura Vivanco said...

I don’t care. You’re married, you’re happy, you’re boring. Where’s the drama? Where’s the tension, where’s the story progression?
At best, it’s indulgent. At worst, it’s cynical.
I’m talking to you, SEP, Laurens, Kleypas, Balogh and [insert culprit of your choice].
The only time I would be interested if there was trouble in paradise.
Or is it just me?


No, it's not just you. Tumperkin recently wrote almost exactly the same thing:

After all, are any of us really interested when the happy couples of earlier books pop up in later novels? I’m not. It’s an irritant to me

As I wrote over at RRR in response to Tumperkin, I am interested in seeing more of those couples (if I liked them in the first place).

Meriam said...

Oh, yes. Exactly what Tumperkin said - it's an irritant and a distraction!

This was particularly evident in SmaS, because it seriously diminished the intensity of the central relationship.

Are you truly interested in seeing old couples again? There are times when I just see it as the naked promotion of a franchise, with absolutely no artistic/ creative integrity whatsoever.

Or, of course, it could be the author bringing back characters that they love... but when it serves no purpose to the plot, should this be indulged?

But as you mention in your comments to Tumperkin's post, there are people who want their 'HEA reinforced'. I guess I'm not in it for the aftermath. As I've said elsewhere:

We need the happy ending (so that we come back for more?) but it is the struggle, the ‘subject pursuing an object’ that makes the story compelling and keeps us reading on.

Which is why I would be totally interested if there was a story to tell after the HEA - are the couple grieving from the loss of a child, or a miscarriage (fairly common in the past): how do they overcome this? etc.

Laura Vivanco said...

Are you truly interested in seeing old couples again?

Yes, but as I said, only if I was interested in their relationship to start with.

Or, of course, it could be the author bringing back characters that they love... but when it serves no purpose to the plot, should this be indulged?

I wouldn't want them to be brought in gratuitously.

it is the struggle, the ‘subject pursuing an object’ that makes the story compelling and keeps us reading on.

I don't read for "the struggle," and in fact in some novels I can find "the struggle" a distraction, particularly when it's based on a Big Misunderstanding. What I really want is to get to know the personalities of the hero and heroine and understand how their relationship works. So seeing an example of how they behave towards each other in a less charged context, when they've overcome their obstacles, could be something I'd find very interesting.

I absolutely don't believe the saying about "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I think each happy family is happy in its own way too, and it's interesting to me to see that demonstrated.

It's probably easiest to do by writing a sequel in which the same couple are the protagonists. The trouble with making them appear as secondary characters is that you've got to be careful not to let them overshadow or steal time from the new hero and heroine. But an example of how it can be done well can be found in Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army. There you get to see a mature relationship between the lovers from Regency Buck and I found it interesting to see how the heroine of that novel has developed, and which aspects of her personality have been toned down now that she's not in conflict with her hero/husband.

Meriam said...

Something robin said in the comments section of that post pretty much summarised how I feel about conflict in a romance. Apologies for the length but it really is spot on.

As someone who finds potent conflict as stimulating to read as intense intimacy between a couple, I am sometimes disappointed by the lack of passion behind the relationship conflict in Romance (assuming there is any to begin with, and not merely an external conflict the couple must battle), as well as a lack of nuance and complexity in the couple’s emotional dynamic. Not that I’m a fan of the ‘bring the couple to the absolute brink of disaster and then plaster an HEA on the book and call it Romance,’ but if there’s no danger on the road to everlasting togetherness, what’s the emotional payoff in that romantic unity?

Judith and Worth are a good example - but I think what is interesting about them is that we don't really see them as a couple in Infamous Army - Judith's prickly relationship with Babs drives the story, and her relationship with her husband is totally secondary to that. It's pleasant, but it's not thrown in our faces.

I'm not totally against it, just the worst abuses. Like when multiple couples turn up, each as deliriously happy as the next, and it just becomes too much.

Maybe I'm just a sour old prune.

Laura Vivanco said...

Maybe I'm just a sour old prune.

Of course you're not! Or if you are, I am too, because I'd agree that some of the blissfully happy couples are totally unbelievable, and it is rather sickening when an entire family of siblings of either the current hero or heroine turn up, with their attendant spouses (with whom they are still madly in love) and multiple progeny (to prove that all the previous couples in the series are immensely fecund) in a way that's obviously just contrived so that the author can show off their unnaturally high levels of joy, ardour and fertility.

Tumperkin said...

How did I miss this? Your Amazon post is still at the top...

Well yes, I absolutely agree. One thing I've noticed during my mad glomming of Kresley Cole is that she doesn't do her series QUITE so chronologically as other authors. So, for example, in Cade's book, you get a scene that is a preview into Rydstrom's book. And quite often you'll get little snippets from previous books (since the events are overlapping). It's a nice little snapshot of something you've already read. It's smart and strangely rewarding.

Meriam said...

Mix-up with the drafts. Stupid Blogger.

Snippets: yes. Cloying, pages long love-scenes: no.

And points for cleverness, because I liked what Cole did. Shana Abe does a good job with her Drakon series by drip-feeding information about her earlier protagonists. And it's interesting, because you see that life isn't entirely blissful for some of them - they've had to make sacrifices/ compromises along the way.

Janine said...

But the effect is diluted considerably by the fact that there are at least four other couples who feel exactly the same way. How are we supposed to believe in the rabid, all-consuming, once-in-a-lifetime, Heathcliff-on-the-moors type love when everyone’s at it? It becomes a little – yes, pedestrian.LOL. I have not read the Kleypas, but I've encountered this phenomenon in many other books, and I couldn't agree more. There are rare, oh so rare exceptions (I loved the glimpse of Sebastian and Rachel and their baby in Gaffney's Forever and Ever, and I thought Tess and Gryf were more compelling in The Shadow and the Star than in The Hidden Heart) but in general, if you are married and happy, I don't want to hear from you.

maygirl7 said...

I totally agree. I am sick to death of happy couples showing up in later books -- BORING. Thinking as I type, the problem with returning to happily coupled characters is their one-dimensionality. Should those couples be characterized as anything other than happy (and desperate to force their happiness onto the "new" couple) it would possibly be interesting.

For me Suzanne Brockmann is one of the worst offenders. Every time I see Alyssa and Sam mentioned I feel like vomiting.

Meriam said...

Precisely! If I ever, ever devised a blog award, it would be for authors who a) let successful series come to a natural and creatively satisfying end and b) do not dangle happy couples from previous books like so much deadwood.

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