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The Unbearable Sadness of Historical Novels

This is the last time I pick books at random. Next time I pick up a new novel to read, I will have spent hours on reviews, recommendations, and cross-comparisons. I say this because I’ve recently read two of the worst books ever. By coincidence, they both happened to be historical novels focused on women in the 1920s.

Now, I try not to do too much ranting on this blog, so the reason I wrote this post is as kind of a public service so that other people can avoid these books. And yes, okay I want to rant about them.

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

east-of-the-sunThis is a book about three women going by ship to India. Rose is a young woman who is going to marry some guy she hardly knows in India. Her friend Victoria or “Tor”, is just happy to accompany her and to be away from her annoying mother. Their chaperone is a slightly more experienced woman called Viva, who only had one love affair, but for some unexplained reason it was terrible, so she doesn’t share many details about it with her charges. Viva is also hiding some other terrible secret about how her whole family died in India. Without spoiling the plot, let me just say that when it’s revealed, it doesn’t seem like it was worth reading the entire 600 page slog for.

So you would think the voyage to India would be exciting, especially since the girls are also accompanied by a teenage boy who is quite rude and a kleptomaniac as well. You would think he at least would do something outrageous like steal everyone’s silverware, but he mostly just mopes around while the girls talk about how freaked out they are about Rose getting married. The one thing this book has that draws you in is great descriptions, but after just pages and pages of them, I got extremely impatient for something to happen. So I skipped to the end of the book, and it wasn’t much better. My recommendation is avoid this book unless you like books in which absolutely nothing happens.

The Paris Wife

pariswifeThe Paris Wife is the kind of novel that makes you want to yell at it. Mostly, you want to yell things like “How could you be so stupid?” or “Oh, your husband is being a jerk? Why don’t you do something about it?” and “Why does Ernest Hemingway come across as such a whiner?”

Maybe I missed the whole point and it’s a novel of literary genius. After all, it takes an amazing feat of penmanship to make one of the most interesting 20th century writers seem really boring and ordinary. And of course, his wife and all his literary friends are even more boring than he is in this strange alternate universe that Paula McLain has created.

As with the other terrible book, I kept waiting for the interesting part to start, for someone to say something witty or shocking as those modernist writers and flappers tended to do, but no such luck! Instead, Hemingway just whines to his wife a lot and they try to meet “interesting” literary people, but having had the experience of East of the Sun, I got smart enough not to read the whole thing to its completion.

I’d much rather just read a book by Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald instead. Sometimes books by dead white guys are the most reliable. That being said, I would still love to see some feminist revisionist stuff from a woman’s perspective, just something that doesn’t suck, so if you have any recommendations, please post them in the comments.

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Count Morelli and the 777 Challenge

I have been challenged! A huge thank you to Michael Fedison, author of The Eye Dancers, for nominating me for the 777 Challenge.

Check out Michael’s Eye Dancers blog here.

Palashov alighted from his carriage, followed by Lorenzo. The officer knocked decisively on the front door.

After several minutes, an impassive butler with heavy-lidded dark eyes set in a bald head appeared in the doorway and made it clear that Count Morelli was not home. His tone was so forbidding that Palashov understood him without Lorenzo having to translate.

What the Russian officer and his translator did not understand was how the maestro could be absent from his home and yet screaming out an exasperated tirade — throughout which they could distinguish quite a few obscenities — from somewhere on the top floor of the left wing.

The ferocious staccato of his high-pitched voice was blasting from all the windows, which were opened to admit a nonexistent breeze.

“Truly, only a genius, a virtuoso of the violin can get away with throwing such tantrums,” Palashov remarked.

Weirdly enough, this is almost exactly where I began writing my very first draft of the novel, but later it was overrun with other scenes that preceded it. I am still revising this novel, so you never know, this may turn out to be the first page rather than the seventh if one day it’s finally sent out into the world.

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Day of the Living Dummies: A Visit to Tombstone

“Welcome to the OK Corral. The West’s most famous gunfight began where you are now standing. If you look around, you can see the gunfighters, just as they stood on October 26, 1881…” said a disembodied voice from the speakers.

There I stood at the actual site of the OK Corral in the blazing Arizona heat. This was where it had all happened. On this exact spot, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers faced off against the most notorious gang of outlaws in the old west. I was very excited to see the recreation of the gunfight, but I was in for quite a surprise…

wyatt earp saddle

You see, the truth is, life in the old west wasn’t as glamorous as it was portrayed to be by movies like Tombstone (starring Kurt Russel). Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and his gambler friend Doc Holiday didn’t look like Hollywood movie stars. Yes indeed, this is what they don’t tell you in the history textbooks. All the participants in the shootout (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp, Doc Holiday, the Clanton Brothers, and Frank and Tom McLaury) were not real people at all but were in fact large, lifelike dummies.

Usually, the gunfight is reenacted daily by real people (a very inaccurate portrayal, compared to the dummy one), but I’d arrived too late for that. For latecomers like me, they had an ever better show on hand. Here is a small glimpse of it:

I know, you are very jealous dear readers, because you weren’t there to witness it yourself. I think you’ll agree that even as a dummy, Wyatt Earp is quite heroic.

I also found out much about the sex trade workers who lived in Tombstone in Wyatt Earp’s time. They were sometimes referred to in those days as “soiled doves,” which sounds a bit condescending. This made me think of the doves that were living above the patio in the house where I was staying in Phoenix, only they should have more rightly been called “soiling doves” as they frequently soiled the nest and its surroundings.

Two of Wyatt Earp’s wives (he had been married three times, with the third marriage lasting until his death) were former “soiled doves.” One of the wives, Mattie, had to return to her former profession and was driven to suicide when Wyatt abandoned her. This fact seems to tarnish the romantic gloss Hollywood has wrought over this legendary hero.

I returned from my journey somewhat wiser and more aware of the harsh reality of this town’s history. Oh well. The truth is better than a romantic myth. Would you agree?

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I am a Pirate King!

1950sI saw another article (Yahoo, you disappoint me again) about women dressing age appropriately. It seems one of these comes out every other week. It made me think about how in many ways our society is still stuck in the 1950’s, a time when everything was supposed to be, or at least look, appropriate. But appearances aren’t everything, and there are still so many inequalities despite the fact that we speak with political correctness.

In fact, political correctness works to mask a lot of problems by creating the illusion that everyone is equal. Just because we speak “appropriately” doesn’t mean everything is fine and dandy.

Removing gendered language from professional titles, for instance, doesn’t seem to do any good and just sounds plain weird. Instead of a chairman or a chairwoman you are now simply a chair. Why would you call a person a chair? Seems kind of rude. And what are female actresses supposed to call themselves? Actors.

On the other hand, this is good news for me. If a woman can be an actor, then a woman can also be a king… and I’ve always wanted to be a Pirate King. Or at least ever since I saw this!

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Top 10 Swashbuckling Movies

This is my personal selection of top swashbuckling films. One of my obvious favorites is the Princess Bride, but I already did a post on it recently. I’ve chosen a few lesser known ones (at least lesser known in North America) and classics that I found particularly appealing, and although Hollywood has often mucked up its attempts at swashbuckling, a few worthy tinseltown films have made the list.

Les Trois Mousqetaires (The Three Musketeers)

three-musketeers-swashbucling movieThis French 1961 screen adaptation is the best there is! It’s mostly accurate as compared to the novel, except maybe a little more over the top. D’Artagnan has a crazy habit of jumping out of windows, and there’s also a tremendous bar fight with tables, shelves, and everything in between used as weapons. This film really inspired a lot of my writing… now you can see where the wackiness comes from.

Les Maries de L’An Deux (English title The Swashbuckler)

“Nicolas Philibert goes to America after killing a French aristocrat. On his return he tries to divorce his wife, Charlotte, but when he sees others trying to woo her his own interest is rekindled.”

This is the ultimate swashbuckling adventure starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, who gallivants around Revolutionary France insulting and fighting Royalists and Revolutionarists alike while trying to woo his wife.

Scaramouche

Scaramouche-swashbuckling-movieHere’s another story of someone who doesn’t give a damn about the French Revolution but becomes entangled in politics while pursuing the woman of his dreams. Our swashbuckler is an actor, hiding his identity behind the mask of Scaramouche, a buffoon of the stage. In the meantime, he takes fencing lessons that will enable him to seek revenge on a haughty marquis. Based on Rafael Sabatini’s novel, which begins, “He was born with the gift of laughter  and a sense that the world was mad.”

The Mark of Zorro

“The film is based on the story The Curse of Capistrano written by Johnston McCulley, originally published in 1919, which introduced the masked hero Zorro. The story is set in Southern California during the early 19th century. – Wikipedia

This is, for my money, the best Zorro movie ever. It perfectly captures the concept of the double identity and includes a great fencing scene. Accoring to Wikipedia, ” In 2009, it was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant and will be preserved for all time.”

Zorro (1975)

This is another awesome Zorro movie starring French heartthrob Alain Delon. Famous swordsman Diego sees his friend Miguel assassinated right before his eyes. He finds out the name of the killer, but before he dies Miguel makes him swear not to take revenge by bloodshed. Diego journeys to Nueva Aragona and takes Miguel’s place, posing as the new governor. He fights injustices in the Zorro disguise, but without killing anyone, how will he take revenge against the evil colonel who killed his friend? With the addition of an eccentric aunt, a mute servant, a rebellious young lady, and a Great Dane who all join the cause of justice, this is an awesome Zorro extravaganza! And this is the super-catchy opening theme song:

The Scarlet Pimpernel

This is kind of a Zorro story in reverse. Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy aristocrat, has an alter ego as the Scarlet Pimpernel, a hero who rescues nobles from the guillotine in Revolutionary France. When not in the guise of the Scarlet Pimpernel, he pretends to be a fatuous fashion monger, as in this scene, where as one YouTuber aptly described it, Sir Percy PWNS the chief agent of the Committee of National Security.

Cutthroat Island

This is a very entertaining pirate film with a female lead (hurray!). Also, it was a huge box office flop. I don’t understand why it flopped; it’s probably some latent sexism on the part of mass audiences who believe a woman pirate who means business and has a pet monkey is not a realistic figure. Of course, history begs to differ. There were plenty of female pirates, some were captains of ships.

Anyways, the story is basically about a treasure hunt, romance, and revenge, all good pirate motivations.

Count of Monte Cristo

An innocent sailor becomes the victim of a political conspiracy and is imprisoned on false charges. Many years later, he escapes from the seemingly inescapable island prison of Chateau d’If and finds a priceless treasure. Then he begins to wreak revenge on his enemies!

Unlike the usual Hollywood attempt at a classic novel, this one is actually an improvement on the book! It’s much more jolly. Purists will probably not agree, but for my taste the book was too long-winded.

Fanfan la Tulipe

An ambitious young man is told his fortune by a gypsy… she tells him he will join the army, win glory and marry the king’s daughter. Although the gypsy is not a real fortune teller, Fanfan starts believeing in his destiny, and when he happens to rescue the princess of France, it seems all the predictions are about to come true…

Fanfan la Tulipe is a character from French folklore and song. He’s represented with great humour and swashbuckliness here by Gerard Philipe. If you’re going to watch Fanfan la Tulipe, this movie version from 1952 is much better than the 2003 one.

Pirates of the Carribean

The first film in the series really added something fresh and new to the swashbuckling genre, (the sequels are so lame I will not even talk about them here…) The good thing is, the series really revived people’s interest in pirates! It also originated some classic lines such as “Why is the rum gone?!”

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Swashbuckling Novel Cover Sketches

I’ve been hired for an internship in website development (more on that in a later post). It’s a very exciting project, though unfortunately this means less time spent writing my blog and novels. But it’s all for the greater good of humanity! Also I got a few sketches of the cover for my swashbuckling novel Count Morelli, and I’m really close to wrapping up the final final draft. I received these a few days ago. I’m pretty sure we’re going to go with the second one. I like how roguish it looks.

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Author Interview

A new interview about moi and my historical fiction novel Count Morelli has been published by Felicia Tatum on her blog. Click on the link below to find out why it’s good to read your teenage writing, who my favorite Count Morelli character is, and what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and David Sedaris have in common.

http://followyourdreamsalways.blogspot.ca/2012/08/author-interview-with-sonya-solomonovich.html

And another great piece of news, I’ve found an illustrator for Count Morelli, so we’ll be seeing the cover soon…