Friday, April 30, 2010

Angsty Goodness

I love to cry.

No, really, I do.

What I don't like is the experience of loss, pain, fear, depression, or any of the other conditions that can make me cry.  But the tears themselves are fine.  So as long as what's making me cry isn't also making me feel really bad, I'm all for it.

Cotton commercials, weepy Bette Davis movies, sad music, and romance novels filled with angsty goodness:  I love them all.  (By contrast, I suspect that a Nicholas Sparks novel/movie would just make me angry.  I'm not willing to test this theory though.)

I had started to read Mary Balogh's Simply Perfect when I realized that there had to be at least three previous novels, not counting the Slightlys, that needed to be read before I could fully appreciate all the people in Simply Perfect.  But which three?  You just about need a score card to keep straight who's going to show up in which novels.  I asked the Balogh-teers on Twitter and was told I had to read One Night For Love first, followed by A Summer to Remember.  As luck would have it, One Night For Love was sitting right in front of me!

Ah, talk about your angsty goodness -- I was crying by page 55.  The heroine, Lily, is positively festooned with angst: her father dies, the man she secretly loves marries her, then she "dies" and he's shot (all this is in the middle of the Peninsular Wars, so the bullets do rather make sense).  By the time he's recovered enough to inquire about his wife, he's told she died.  So he does what all good heirs to earldoms do: he returns home and prepares to marry the woman he was always supposed to marry.

When Lily is finally able to get to England, she does try to get to her beloved (now an earl) as quickly as possible, but she's so shabby looking that his servants (and the stray passing duke & duchess) shoo her along with the offer of sixpence.  She declines the sixpence, which seemed a bit shortsighted given how little money she had and how long it had been since she last ate.  But, in the manner of angsty heroines everywhere she won't accept charity: she might be starving, but she still has her pride.

All that sets up the cliché scene in which Lily appears at the church before he can commit bigamy.  And that, alas, is the last spoiler-free thing I can write about the plot.  Let's just say that page 55 was not the last place I shed happy tears!

It's not a unflawed book, mind you: it rather heaps on the melodrama, coincidence, and miracles.

In fact, if I actually think about it, it's not an entirely satisfying romance.  Neville, our hero, is eventually on board with this being his one True Love, and we know from the outset that Lily has only one True Love, but as for the Big Reason why they can't be together, it's all a bit muddled.  Class differences?  Not precisely.  Lily's deficiencies as a countess?  Not quite.  And it sure isn't sexual incompatibility, although there's a bit of authorial legerdemain here as well: a rather convenient wave of the wand to make certain awkward truths magically disappear.

So I'd have to say it's not a book I loved all the way through.  Except for the angsty goodness.  That, I ate up with a spoon!


  1. Well you KNOW I've already said I love this book. And yes, huge coincidences etc. Imperfect, certainly. But you know what I really really love about it? Those initial 100 or so pages when Lily comes back into Nev's life and she doesn't fit. It's just so painful and awful. I was biting a cushion all the way through. Writerly perfection, that whole section.

    Although I never usually do so, your reference to the sheer angst in this novel prompts me to paste a link to a blog post I wrote years ago.

  2. Interesting. I actually appreciated Balogh's restraint with that first middle section where she's the fish out of water/square peg in a round hole -- but isn't entirely without charm, isn't entirely humiliated by ebil peeps, isn't entirely dejected, etc. (I also appreciated the second middle section, when Lily is in London but we're not made to sit through every music lesson.)

    I have read the sorts of stories that have one biting the cushion; I'm not a huge fan because it does rather depend on EITHER the heroine having no self-esteem, or the EBIL PEEPS being completely without shame or compunction when it comes to humiliating her.

    I checked out your Angsty Journey post -- very interesting! :-) We clearly like the same sorts of things, although I think Gaffney's Lily didn't bother me quite as much as she bothered you. Although, I would really need to reread it to be sure!

    Part of it is (just thinking off the top of my head) how realistic the roller coaster ride feels to me as the reader. That's alchemy between reader and story. The fear of having to live without the hero *always* gets me: Putney's story "The Beast of Belleterre" has no plot to speak of, but it conveys so beautifully that dawning fear the heroine has that the hero has no intention of letting her come home -- AND that her very happiness depends on her return. That might not be the emotional sucker punch for other readers that it is for me, while something that is just an "enh" for me might be the coup de grâe for them.

    So, using your Angsty Journey schematic, I'm cool with a simple N shape: heroine is miserable, then happy because she the hero rescues/connects to/befriends her, then she's miserable because Her Love Can Never Be Requited, then she's ecstatic because He Loves Her Back! I am not sure I need the Alps or an EEG graph in every story.

  3. You know I could not handle Lily because I was so convinced their son would always be the bastard but the weight of social media has convinced me that the aristos would just throw their weight around and change his birth date on the register at church. LoL.

    So Magdalen, did I misinterpret your question? There are 3 Simplys before the last Simply but that's pretty clear on the cover (isn't it, I hope ...). But you still start at the right place, with Lily.

  4. Janet W -- Which Lily are you talking about? The Gaffney? If so, I can't comment because I haven't re-read it recently. I suspect I'll post about it if I do!

    Oh, gosh, did I start with the wrong Simply? Bad Magdalen! I really did check (I thought) but no, I can say definitively that the covers DO not make it clear -- I recall doing a lot of checking with the Slightlys. But that's okay. I've read Lily's book and now am waiting for A Summer to Remember before I start the Simplys. And this time (promise) I'll start with the correct Simply.

  5. I can't keep any of the SIMPLY and SLIGHTLY titles straight.

  6. The Simply order (and you could Simply go over to where everything is Perfectly laid out ... LoL) --
    1. Simply Unforgettable (music teacher, road trip start, snow ... oh snow, Tumperkin, are you reading this?)
    2. Simply Magic (Kit's "Beast" brother, Anne from Freya's story) ... quite lovely but subdued
    3. Simply Love (charity girl meets beta young man ... I thought it should have been better and the sentiments she expressed were more suited to 2000+ than 1800s in my opinion! Too much PC).
    4. Simply Perfect (well for me it wasn't but after I read it 3 times I liked it more).


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