by Constance Hall, historical (2002)
Jove, $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13334-5
When I first open this book, I'm actually in a jovial mood. A friend has sent me a most amusing joke via email, my buddies at Fametracker and me have a whale of a time bitching about celebrity men, and hubby surprises me earlier this evening with a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant because he knows I had a tough week. So yes, I'm feeling great when I start this book.
But as I turn the pages, I begin to feel worse. By page 52, I am more than ready to stick my head in the oven and scream that the world is an evil, evil place and I just want to join the happy smiling ghost Olsen-twins type of kiddies in that big happy candy garden in heaven. By page 200, I could use someone pumping a huge dose of sedatives into me, I'm so emotionally drained and exhausted. Why? Because the main characters in this book are so, to be blunt, fucked-up.
I don't mean realistically tormented. I mean fucked-up as in "having no personalities apart from martyr tendencies, blaming oneself ten times over for every tiny thing wrong with the world, and refusing to do anything remotely selfish while having a completely miserable time while one's at it" kind of fucked-up.
Regan Southworth is so miserable. Her father squanders all their lives and her and her sister's youth trying to find some stupid treasure, and Regan is sad because they aren't finding it yet. She is also whipping herself bloody in guilt because she doesn't succeed in finding it, for if she did, her father wouldn't be sick, her sister will have pretty, pretty dresses and lots of suitors, and she, well, she'll be happy seeing everyone else happy. So now, she is digging very hard all over Lachlan MacGregor AKA Mad Lord of Druidhean's estate.
Mad Lachlan, who is played by a Laura Kinsale reject, tries so hard to be dark, gloomy, and grouchy. Regan, Miss Samaritan Sans Brains, of course must help him feel good. It's in her to save and protect everybody. On his part, it's the same old dull foghorn tune of family curses (this is Scotland, after all), madness, family bitterness, and every other cheap melodrama Ms Hall can shove down the kitchen sink pipe. The story then proceeds to become a contest to see who can lacerate bloody his or her back with more fervor than the other.
And yes, there's the ever present nurse him when he's sick thing in here while those two try to find a common ground to shag, break curse, and make Daddy happy. There is a good story in here, I think, because the two characters seem to share some chemistry borne of mutual masochistic tendencies, and I do find myself engaged by the whole curse thing.
But the main problem is that Lachlan and Regan have no personalities apart from being miserable, guilty, or worried. Every other chapter seems to have a scene where Regan or Lachlan - usually Regan - is being assaulted, feeling irrationally guilty, holding back tears or weeping outright, or wallowing in self-pity. Everything is overwrought. A nasty old woman isn't just nasty, she has to be nasty so that Regan will try in vain to make the old biddy see the error of her ways, et cetera. I have to wonder: who appoints Regan the Champion of Humanity? Who made Lachlan the King of Self Pity? Pair this two together and it's a passive aggressive relationship, finally boiling down to who can read the other's mind first for the three important words. He believes she doesn't love him and she he, so it's a long way coming for self revelation.
Okay, there are portions of this book that can be considered "light", upon closer reflection. But even during these scenes, it's usually Regan trying to behave in a way to please or second guess the thoughts and feelings of everyone around her. Again, Regan the Superheroine, Self-Appointed Mental Vigilante - let her use her superpowers to suck your misery to add to her own!
I shake my head in pity. This gal is headed fast for a nervous breakdown. She'll probably lose it and start lingering in street corners. "Sir? I'll make you happy! I'll get on my knees and let you do all you want to me, because I'm here to make you happy! Happy, happy, happy! Use me, discard me, I don't care, because I have no feelings of my own. I'm RegaBot Version 2.8, Born To Make You Happy. Are you happy? I practiced on cucumbers and baseball bats just to make you happy, sir? And it's free. Happy and free! Hey, where are you running off to, sir? Sir?"
Isle Of Skye is a story where most of mess is brought upon themselves by the characters' own misguided sense of importance. No one asks her to be a superheroine, and no one asks him to be the new Lord Byron - Byron's a drunkard, incestuous, overrated buffoon anyway. I just want them to tell me a story, you know. When I finish Isle Of Skye, rather than joy, I feel relief, a relief more akin to the feeling I get when an elderly relative finally passes on after a long, bitter, and painful fight against some crippling, wasting disease. Some sense of humor and a little of taking oneself less seriously will have gone a long way in bringing some much needed lightness in this musty, dreary story.
Still, there is chemistry between those two. I guess that's something.
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