Pacific view

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Anya Seton

"Green Darkness" by Anya Seton: This is the fourth of Seton's books I've read and I had very mixed feelings about it. I really loved her other books, "Katherine" and "The Winthrop Woman", which were true historical novels. The historical detail and the behavior and interior life of the characters seemed faithful to the era they lived in. The novels were "all of a piece" and nothing rang false. Whereas "Green Darkness" and "Dragonwyck" fall more into the category of the English or American Gothic romance/thriller, centered around a beautiful, seductively innocent heroine who is enraptured with a dark & glamorous "hero" who later turns out to be psychotic.  You know, a bit of a bodice-ripper. "Green Darkness" is actually a hybrid creature that combines elements of both styles--gothic romance and historical fiction. The book is divided into three parts, with a time travel / reincarnation plot device that allows the characters to simultaneously inhabit the 16th century Tudor era and the 20th century.
Nope, just didn't work for me.
So many of the reviews I read (later on, after I'd finished the book) mentioned that they'd first encountered this book as a teenager. That explains a lot. I can definitely see how this book would thrill an adolescent with a romantic turn of mind.  I will never forget discovering "Wuthering Heights" as a 15-year old and being absolutely blown away... I'd never encountered anything so romantic as poor Cathy and her mad Heathcliff on the moors. But being 57 and a little jaded, it's not quite my thing.

I'm looking forward to reading "Bring Up the Bodies", the sequel to Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall". Now there is a writer who can capture the past and interpret the mindsets of people who lived five centuries ago, so skillfully that you feel as if they are whispering their story directly into your ear. I can't wait.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gaskell, Maugham, and The Time Traveler's Wife

Finished reading Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South" and W. Somerset Maugham's "The Painted Veil".  Promptly followed that up by viewing the 2004 BBC mini-series of "North and South", which Netflix tagged as "dark and romantic". Indeed it is, what with Richard Armitage casting dark, smoldering looks at Daniela Denby-Ashe, who at first responds by acting snippy and offended, letting her prejudiced attitudes toward brash Northerners and men of trade overtake her well-bred British manners. The early sparks between them lead to mutual misunderstandings and later, to longing and unrequited passions. I make it sound drippier than it is; actually, I think, the developing romance between them is actually handled quite nicely, with both of them moving gradually and subtly from their initially disastrous first impressions to a deeper understanding and appreciation for one another. I loved the way the older generation is portrayed in this series, which is due to sensitive directing and great acting. Tim Pigott-Smith and Lesley Manville as Margaret's parents are lovely and warm-hearted, and not the rigid and limited characters of the novel.  Sinead Cusack as Mrs. Thornton adds tremendous layers of depth to her character, making her much more complex and appealing than she comes across in Gaskell's book. Overall, a good example of how the filmed version can sometimes be an improvement on the original source material.
I'm waiting for my DVD of "The Painted Veil" (2006, with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton) to arrive in the mail. If nothing else, it should be a feast for the eyes in its depiction of 1920's colonial China.

In the meantime I am in the middle of "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger, a best-seller, apparently, although I don't quite get why. It starts out with a science fiction premise which is promising...Henry, the main character has a "chrono-displacement disorder" that causes him to time travel unexpectedly and without warning. Despite this malady he falls in love with and eventually marries Clare, who he first meets when they are both in their 20's. She is able to stick with him and to accept the fact that he's liable to drop out of her life at any given moment and vanish into another time and place, because she remembers meeting him at various stages of her childhood & adolescence, when he time-traveled back to her past. Never mind-- it isn't supposed to make sense. It's a good premise that it entirely wasted in my opinion. The love story just isn't that interesting, and neither are Clare and Henry. Much is made of her long, red hair, and his interest in punk rock bands of the 70's. They have a lot of sex, to indicate how strong their bond is.  They have trouble making their relationship work because of Henry's tendency to  disappear at critical moments, but you're meant to believe that their love is strong enough to withstand the stress. Please. This was also made into a movie version in 2009 but I don't think I can bear to watch it. The reviews were uniformly devastating. On to better material, hopefully.