Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sundial in a Grave:1610 by Mary Gentle

This wasn't a badly written book, it was just a badly edited one. It needs to be 200 pages shorter than it is (660 pages with that many redundancies is a crime) and it also needs someone to delete much of the political talk, ruminations and information, because all that is boring to the reader. Not many people find the intricacies of the 17th century, in terms of politics and who is stabbing whom in the back, all that exciting. We know the outcome, after all, so why bore us with the details? What makes history interesting (and I speak as one with a history degree) is the people involved in it, and what the people do that is different or adventurous. I appreciate that Mary Gentle was obviously trying to write a tale in the came vein as Dumas or Sabatini, with the twist of having a female muskateer, however, she didn't really make her Dariole a likeable person. Dariole is a sadistic, cruel and vicious person who really got tiresome one-third of the way through the book. She was not remotely honorable in her behavior, and showed no compassion, kindness or even decency to the besotted and ridiculous Rochefort, who was a masochist and totally pathetic by that same one-third of the book. How Gentle can, in good conscience, have a main character who is supposedly a duelist and a man of dignity be beaten, bloodied, flayed, imprisoned, beaten again, and totally humiliated over and over again, and still try to have the reader believe he's a good guy, or at least a man of honor and dignity is beyond me. He never won any fights, he was constantly beaten by everyone, including a 15 year old and his own servant, and he constantly whined about being a masochist and wanting to be humiliated by Dariole. After about the fourth time that he blubbers that he is undeserving of anything or anyone because he enjoys being whipped by that horrid child, I wanted to scream "Oh please! Not AGAIN!" Gentle seems to want to torture the reader with such redundancy, instead of keeping the plot moving forward. And I found it hard to believe that someone as honorable as Samurai Tanaka Saburo would want Dariole to kill him. She was so shallow, so deliberately cruel, always angry and ill-behaved that I was actually hoping that Saburo would cut her arm off, just so we wouldn't have to read of her beating up Rochefort yet again and causing him to get an erection. Caterina and Fludd were interesting characters, and I felt that more time could have been spent on Caterinas predictions and less on humiliating Fludd, who was suddenly ill-spoken when confronted by Dariole, as if his brain fled. Speaking as a woman who has been raped, I found the whole idea that Dariole wanted to kill Fludd instead of the man who actually raped her just plain stupid. Trust me, you want to kill the guy who actually hurt you, not the evil mastermind guy who told him to do it, and then walked away because he could have cared less. The guy that did rape her did so because he could, and because he enjoyed it, obviously. She should have made it her business to cut off his "cod" and feed it to him. That she preferred anal sex was, I felt, added purely for the sake of titillation, and certainly didn't make Dariole seem any less ugly or freakish as a person. I was thankful that Gentle wrapped it up in the last two chapters, so at least we know what happened to the characters, but again, things could have moved at a much brisker pace, and the story would have benefited. The title of the book was somewhat misleading. We heard of two sundials in the story, but they were not central to the plot. The cover should have been something more important to the plot of the book, such as Dariole fighting, or portrait of "Sully's Black Dog" or something more reflective of the era than books and a skull. Books were a luxury few could afford back then, and not many people used skulls as paperweights. I am also concerned that Gentle used the "F-word" frequently during the book, for no apparent reason. I do not recall reading, during college, that this was a commonly used word during the 17th century, particularly among those of good family. I sincerely hope that Gentle considers what she is trying to say here, and cleans the book up a bit. It's a 300-400 page novel that took her 660 plus pages to finalize in a satisfying fashion. Someone needs to cut out the deadwood, and turn it into an adventure novel with a snappy plot.
I felt this was a novel that was somehow trying to normalize "sado-masochist" relationships, by saying that this type of thing has been around for so long, and was common enough that we should embrace it, and practitioners of it, as just perfectly normal people, instead of perverts. We should also, of course, realize that anal sex was common and made adventurous women liberated because they couldn't get pregnant that way. Yeah, right.
definitely not my cuppa tea, and I think I will henceforth steer clear of Ms Gentles works.

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