Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Notes on a Beastly Book

I read Alex Flinn's Beastly over the weekend.  There's a helpful badge on the cover that says, "Read it before you see it!"  That's because it's already been made into a film, the release of which I completely missed.  (From the reviews, I gather it was eminently missable, but by all means judge for yourself.)

The book, on the other hand, is wonderful.  If you're a fan of the Beauty and the Beast story, be sure to read it.

Flinn has twisted the fairy tale into a Gossip Girl edition -- the prince is Kyle, the super-cute guy at a Manhattan private school with more than its share of good looking people.  In the book, he's turned into a real beast: fur, claws, the works.  His image-obsessed father packs him away in a fabulous brownstone in Brooklyn to live with a maid and a blind tutor.

I won't spoil any of the lovely details -- it's too much fun spotting everything in the course of the book -- but I'm confident that all the key elements of the fairy tale are in there.

I have a couple observations.  First, the book's written entirely from the Beast's point of view.  That's not a minor detail because at its heart, Beauty and the Beast is a very gynocentric story.  The version we all know is of a girl whose father needs her help so she steps up, sacrifices herself, has that sacrifice rewarded with true love and, at the very end, gets a cute prince.  Moral: be generous of yourself and you will be rewarded.  Secondary Moral:  parents are idiots.

Told from the Beast's point of view, the story is one of redemption.  Adrian ( Kyle) starts out as a beastly person and ends up with tremendous humanity as a beast.  Frankly, the romance is quite beside the point -- he needs Beauty to fall in love with him to return him to human form.  Of course he does fall in love, and she with him, but if the witch had set him a different quest that relied on his developing decency and empathy for others it would have worked just as well.

I loved getting the Beast's POV, mostly because the redemption story is actually more interesting than the self-sacrifice-rewarded story.  It made me wonder why there's a rule (how hard-and-fast it is I don't know, but I can't think of many exceptions) that in conventional romances, more than half the scenes need to be in the heroine's POV.  Can anyone think of a romance novel that has a lot more of the hero's POV than the heroine's?

Wouldn't it be fun to get more of the hero's POV in some stories, particularly those where it's the hero who has the dramatic story arc?  Hmmm.  I'll have to think about that.

Second, I wonder if Beastly is really a romance novel.  Kyle/Adrian is 16 at the beginning of the book and 18 at its end.  Flinn doesn't fudge the True Love HEA of the fairy tale, but set in the world of modern-day teenagers, it's a little hard to think that couple will be together in five years, let alone fifty.

Here's why I didn't care -- at that age, I think it's lovely that they think they'll be together forever.  Maybe they will and maybe they won't, but I consider it a happy ending either way.  They're both better, healthier, happier people by the book's end.  And regardless of whether they end up together in the long, long term or not, they have each other's backs.  They have each learned to trust and to bond with another human being.

That's more than most teenagers have accomplished.


  1. I'm going to have to go look, but one book that might have more of the hero's POV is Balogh's The Notorious Rake. I tend to think of it as "Edmond's book" which is why it immediately came to mind. Otherwise, I can't think of another example. Fascinating question, though. And BTW, Beastly sounds interesting!

  2. I just finished first person POV book about a 17 year old and its epilogue mentions that she and her high school boyfriend spend 70 happy years together. The whole thing is vaguely science fiction/futuristic but that was the part that made me go "huh"

    I always thought B and B was about the big Male Grovel, another retelling of the Wife of Bath's tale. The guy has to learn to love properly before he can be fit to marry. Your interpretation is fun, too.

  3. Phyl -- I haven't read The Notorious Rake yet, so I can't say. But my first instinct was that my WIP might have more than 50% hero's POV. Then I realized no -- it's not that there's more of his POV, but that he and the heroine are equal characters in weight and significance to the story. I suspect if I totted it up, it would be 60% - 40% her POV versus his.

    Kate R. -- Yes, there is a Big Male Grovel in Beauty and the Beast, but that's just a few stages in his overall redemption story. He has to go from being narcissistic ("I'm so handsome") to self-involved ("Grrr. I'm so ugly.") to aware of another ("Aww. She's so pretty") to aware of something other than looks ("She's so good") to seeing himself through her eyes ("Ugh. I'm such a beast") to wanting to live up to her standards ("I need to behave better") to love ("I love her") to ability to be loved, which is also the ability to love oneself, at which point he's at death's door.

    So there's groveling in there ("I'm sorry I was so beastly, I'll do better") but really it's part of his development of depth of character.

    I think, if the story were just about the Big Male Grovel, it wouldn't have the ending with his being saved by her love. He has to be able to feel loved -- which he clearly wasn't able to do at the beginning of the story -- in order to live.

    But, flipped over, from Beauty's point of view it's yet more evidence of how powerful her love -- now transferred from her father to her beastly beau -- is. She saves her father's hide and then saves the beast.

  4. If I recall correctly, Laurens' "On a Wicked Dawn" is primarily hero's point of view.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts on this book. I'm adding it to my TBR list. I saw the previews for the movie and was intrigued, mostly because there is an Olsen twin playing a goth girl and well, I'm an 80s kid; the Olsens and their straight to VHS videos were a huge part of my childhood. :)

  6. Dick -- I haven't read that one. I'll check it out.

    Elizabeth -- I had to check the cast to see which part she was playing. Yeah, that's not how I pictured Kendra from the book, but then the way they made Alex Pettyfer, whom I remember as Alex Rider in a British movie that probably didn't do well over here, supposedly ugly isn't at all my idea of "beastly."

    One of the wonderful things about books is how the reader can cast the book any way she wants in her head!

  7. Janet W: I'm sure my comment will be deleted haha but to my husband's disgust and glazed over eyes, I described William and Kate's breakup as requiring a huge grovel to get back on the HEA track and he looked at me like I was demented. Humph!

    Now you have me thinking about hero's with strong POVs throughout and needed grovels ... Jo Beverley's Lord of my Heart has both parties on their knees, so to speak: huge misunderstandings on both sides and you have both of them looking at the other and wondering about the truth. But a book that's more than 50% hero POV, I can't think of any at the moment.

  8. Janet W. -- According to my sources, Kate broke up with William, so sure he needed to suck it up and grovel. I also read that he had some creepy friend who advised him to play to field with a lot of other women, as it were. Something tells me that guy (no, really, that's his name: Guy) won't be playing a big role at the wedding.


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