Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.49, ISBN 978-0-263-89077-8
Contemporary Romance, 2012
Julia James’s The Dark Side of Desire is part of the Modern imprint, although heaven knows why. There is nothing modern about this, it’s a throwback to some bizarre misogynistic era where women are supposed to be submissive, innocent, and utterly stupid in order to be rewarded by love. But since the “love” in question comes from a stupid man whose wealth is the only reason to recommend him as a husband, maybe this is subversive propaganda in praise of the modern woman? At any rate, this story is too painful to read, no matter what its raison d’etre may be.
Simply put, this is the story of a heroine who is, naturally, forced to put out in order to make her senile grandmother happy while protesting all the way that she really isn’t a whore as she’s doing it for a good cause. Flavia Lassiter has no job, no friends, no money, nothing – she just exists to care for her grandmother, whose recent operation forces Flavia to be indebted to her cartoon villain father for three years. “In debt” means that she has to pretty up and act the dutiful daughter to the father.
It’s not really a hard way to work off a huge debt, if you ask me, but Flavia is a good girl by the bizarre standards of this line. Which means: she detests make-up and sexy clothes. Putting on lipstick is akin to having to undergo heart surgery without anesthesia. Therefore, Flavia is in agony having to wear sexy dresses (paid by her father) and put on cosmetics. To drive home Flavia’s virtue, Ms James has the mistress of Flavia’s father being portrayed as a promiscuous greedy whore who puts on make-up, wears low-cut dresses, and speaks in a shrill voice. She’s also older, and of course, not as beautiful as Flavia, because it is only a virtue to be a beautiful if you are born that way. Aspiring to be beautiful is a sin, and wanting to improve one’s circumstances by making money, that’s a bigger sin! We all know that the only way good women should make money is by marrying a rich man, in the name of true love of course.
Leon Maranz is an immigrant in England, and I am bringing this up only because, apparently, not being born in England is one of Leon’s reasons for being angry with the world in general. Leon is a self-made man, who took odd jobs upon coming to England and, somehow, manages to become a billionaire at a young age in a manner that does not involve drug peddling, arms smuggling, human trafficking, prostitution, or embezzlement. Maybe one day he took a big dump and bags of thousand dollar bills just popped out. Anyway, Flavia’s father is desperate to be Leon’s business partner, and the man has Flavia paraded before Leon in an effort to interest Leon in a business proposal in exchange for free frigid-bunny honey.
Flavia of course refuses to play her father’s game and she is, in fact, catatonic over the horrifying realization that she is attracted to Leon. Alas, her frigid nature, conservative clothes, and old grandmother hairstyle only inflame Leon’s lust because, as he puts it, her beauty cannot be contained by such artificial means of concealment. I don’t know why that man didn’t move to some conservative backwater areas of the Middle-East – all those women covered head to toe in black garments would surely cause him to pass out from lust overload.
So Leon pursues her, Flavia almost experiences a nervous breakdown because only whores experience sexual desire, and her father forces her to put out anyway for her grandmother’s sake. Flavia is too stupid not to hoard things to herself, and Leon is stupid enough to believe her father’s lies, so the climax of this story has Leon savagely accusing her of being a whore right after Flavia has attended a funeral of a loved one. I have to tell you, Ms James really knows how to create endearing and romantic heroes. Flavia of course forgives him because it’s her fault for being a ninny. In a way, I do agree that the whole mess is that stupid idiot’s fault, but her passive willingness to forgive Leon and accept Leon’s patronizing lecture (he naturally blames her for everything) is just one of the many instances where this idiot heroine just lies there and lets everyone walk all over her.
How is this even going to be a happily ever after? The heroine has no backbone, no spirit, no personal wants and desires, no ambitions, nothing. She’s designed from day one to be a personality-free doormat victim with only the hero as her support system. And the hero is a brutal idiot who is also as dumb as a sack of turnips. In this “romance”, the heroine has to be coerced by circumstances and her father as well as pushed by the hero into sexual situations, and she exhibits little joy about anything because she’s such a wound-up wretch. I can only imagine that this imbecile will hang herself out of shame and guilt one day when she butters the bread on the wrong side and is scolded by her husband for it.
The Dark Side of Desire, oh please. The dumb side, more like.