Monday, June 12, 2006

Psst! The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is a Funny bit of Fluff

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig is a surprisingly goofy, funny historical romance that takes todays conventions and injects them into characters from 200 years ago. Willig, according to the dust jacket, is a Yale grad who is getting her PhD in History from Harvard, as well as a law degree. So she's obviously not a dolt. Why she'd choose to write romance fiction that has been tarted up with history is beyond me. I can only think she is trying to cash in on the chic lit craze and popularize the history of spies and espionage for women. Perhaps that is the only kind of fiction that she could sell for enough to help pay off her student loans. Who knows? Her cover art is wonderfully arch and her female characters way too liberated and modern-sounding, but altogether, it makes credible chick lit. That said, I liked the book, which has verve and some very funny moments, despite the gullible and ridiculously naive heroine, Amy, who would have been dead several times over in real life. The male characters shine, of course (romance novels always have heroic manly men) and the evil-doers are dastardly and fanatical, with limp hair, evil leers and plenty of vitriol ready to spew at our hero Lord Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian, when he's inevitably caught. I was rather surprised that the author gave the heroine such a whimpy, boring name when she had a whole raft of lovely French and English names to choose from. The French in particular have lovely female names, and I can't imagine the author putting any real thought into choosing such a dull little piss-pot of a name for a fiery character...Amy. Yawn. Not a lot of heroic Amys out there, when you think about it. But I suppose that Eloise, the modern-day character, makes up for it with her dairy-cow name (Eloise was the Borden Dairy mascot cow in Iowa for years). Eloise, too, acts stupid around men, and is somehow determined to develop a romance with the aristocracy, which hardly seems plausible, especially for an American grad student in London. Her part of the story seemed much more realistic than the 1803 part, however, so I was glad to see that the author didn't have the two plots mimic one another right up to the end. I feared that Eloise would fall into bed with Colin Selwick and all would be forgiven in a deliriously cliche-ridden love scene. Thankfully, it didn't happen. The book ended with the feeling that the second Pink Carnation book isn't far behind. I might pick up a copy, if I can get it from a bargain bin for under $5, but I won't pay full price for it. All in all, the prose was in need of a bit of a trim here and there, especially when detailing the heroines thoughts, and the plot slowed down a couple of times, but other than that it moved at a nice pace, and the modern characters did nothing too jarring. The 19th century characters were way too modern in their dealings with what women were and were not allowed to do, and the treatment of women in society. The men were also a bit too lienient for the times, in my opinion. This was still a good read and a fun distraction for a day, and well worth a look at the second in the series when it comes out.

No comments: