Sunday, May 17, 2020

Library Loot Mini-Reviews: Time to Take a Break from Gothics

I love Gothics, the word alone causing a Pavlovian-like response in me.  I loved them as a teen and the genre kicks off a wave of nostalgia in me.  When I want comfort reading? Nostalgia is usually the first place I turn.  Well, after this latest round of Gothic reading thanks to the Day Job, I'm regretting my life choices.  I'm also left with the feeling that I wish it were morally ethical to clone Simone St. James.

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The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is set at the start of World War II and features a heroine desperate to hang on to her job with the Natural History Museum. She's a woman, has already made a fairly big blunder (albeit it was an accident) but the men are all getting shipped off to war and options are limited.  So her bosses let it be known she's on the short leash as she evacuates with the mammal collection to Lockwood Manor to keep the prized collection safe from German bombs.  The Lord of the Manor is a recent widower whose wife was "mad" (of course she was...) and whose daughter, the heroine's age, is "fragile."  Soon exhibits are going missing and the various disasters are mounting up.

The atmosphere is pitch-perfect but glaciers move faster than this story.  It takes forever to go anywhere - even at the 50% mark there wasn't a whole lot happening.  It's a lot of living inside the heroine's head as her paranoia increases and dark secrets come spilling out into the light.  When it finally starts going somewhere (anywhere!) the various secrets take a lurid turn.  On the plus side, it's queer - with the heroine and fragile daughter entering into a relationship.  I didn't know that going into the book and it was a pleasant surprise. But seriously, this was slow and very much meh.  YMMV but seriously....meh.

Final Grade = C

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Enjoyment of The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James will hinge entirely on if the reader feels that Gothics are genre fiction.  I do. They're an amalgamation of genre (suspense, horror and romance) but Gothics are a genre.  And the whole point of genre fiction is to fulfill a promise to the reader.  The promise that Gothics make is that evil will be vanquished.  Doesn't matter if that evil is human or supernatural - Evil. Will. Be. Vanquished.

In 1947 our heroine with Big Secrets grabs the brass ring of a governess job at Winterbourne on the rocky shores of Cornwall.  Her employer is a scarred, haunted widower with two precocious (and creepy) twins (a boy and a girl).  Their mother died tragically, as did the last governess.  In present day New York, our other heroine, her adoptive parents gone, has just opened an art gallery and is in a superficial relationship with a billionaire playboy-type.  Then she gets a letter that she's inherited Winterbourne.  That biological family she's always yearned to know?  Yeah, they've found her - albeit she's the only one left.  And now she has a giant crumbling Gothic manor on the Cornish coast.

This is standard issue Gothic. The "hero" with dark secrets, a heroine whose mental state is unraveling, a creepy house, two creepy kids, and supernatural shenanigans.  The present day story line anchors it all, gives that heroine a local Cornish love interest, and eventually everything converges as 21st century heroine unravels the supernatural mystery.

So what's the problem?  Well, it all comes to a head, evil is vanquished, things don't end well in 1947 but 21st century heroine is on her way to a happy ending.  But then the author couldn't leave well enough alone.  She tacks on a couple more chapters and basically yells "Gothca!"  That "happy ending" that our 21st century heroine was getting?  Yeah, she's screwed.  In the final couple of chapters.  And not in a good way.  The whole affair ends on a dark, depressing downbeat and now I want to burn everything to the frickin' ground.  In short?  Evil is not vanquished.  Wendy Mad! Wendy Smash!

If you don't think Gothics are genre and you don't think they carry a promise to the reader - then you might like this one.  Me?  I wanted to storm the manor gates with an army carrying torches and pitchforks.

Final Grade = D-

2 comments:

azteclady said...

Well.

DAMN.

Robin asked on twitter about forgiving an author that kills a beloved character, and the question of trust and the author/reader contract came up (I brought it up). I cannot trust an author who, aiming for cleverness/gotcha, betrays the trust contract.

Ah, well.

Wendy said...

AL: Imagine the expression on my face when the author walked back on the "evil supernatural force dealt with" happy ending. It's a minor miracle I didn't yell "YOU. ARE. EFFING. KIDDING. ME." out loud.

This one is a bit of gray area though, especially if you feel like Gothics aren't genre. I'd tell you you're wrong LOL but that's because I've always felt Gothics were one of the original "genre benders" which means, in my mind, they need to adhere to appropriate genre promises. In the end though this could have been Lit Fic and I'd still have had the same reaction. I'm fairly intolerant of fiction that ends on a downbeat.