Robin, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Robin starts – after the “previously on Robin” bit at the beginning – right where Coombe left off, with the joyous happiness of Robin and Donal’s reunion.  Good news: They still love each other.  I wasn’t surprised by that, but I have to confess I was a little unsettled by the scene directly following it, where Donal goes home to tell his mother about his evening.  I quote:

Throughout his life he had taken all his joys to his closest companion and nearest intimate – his mother.  Theirs had not been a common life together.  He had not even tried to explain to himself the harmony and gaiety of their nearness in which there seemed no separation of years.  She had drawn and held him to the wonder of her charm and had been the fine flavour of his existence.  It was actually true that he had so far had no boyish love affairs because he had all unconsciously been in love with the beautiful completeness of her.

Or, Are You There, Freud?  It’s Me, Donal.

Well, then Europe kicks of World War I, and on account of that Donal is brave enough to talk to Robin straight away, overcoming his customary boyish shyness, and they have a touching conversation about how they would have a much slower courtship if it weren’t for the distressing thing about Donal being all set to get shipped off to war.  This is Robin’s reaction to thinking that thought:

“No! No! No! No!” she cried four times.  “Belgium!  Belgium!  Oh!  Belgium!”

Maybe it’s best for Robin to just not think any thoughts, ever.  What I want to know is, does she cry No No No No four times, for a total of sixteen No!s, or is this just Ms. Burnett’s narrative version of those legal documents that say “four (4) shrill negations”?

Anyway, Robin and Donal decide to keep their love a secret.  Actually not a secret (Robin asks about this and Donal is boyishly glad to explain); actually it’s “a sort of sacred, heavenly unbelievable thing we own together.”  Uh-huh.  A sacred, heavenly unbelievable thing that we never tell anyone about and we pretend doesn’t exist.  Nothing like a secret at all.  Just not telling anyone, ever.  Not a secret in any way, no sir.  They love each other a lot, secretly sacredly, and then Donal gets called up and then they get word that he’s died, and Robin takes sick, and it turns out – Ms. Burnett is very coy about this – it turns out she’s preggers.

(I am less coy.)

She’s too busy mourning to worry much about this pregnancy business, so all the grown-ups around her worry about it for her.  They’re very worried and can’t decide what to do, because they don’t want everyone to laugh at her and call her Big Slut Robin when everyone who loves her knows that she is actually Sweet Angel Robin; so after a while Lord Coombe brings it up with her, and she says, with a Barbara-Cartland-worthy delivery, “Did you – think we were – not married?”

Yeah!  Get your mind out of the gutter, Lord Coombe!  Donal would never have sacred boyish romps in the garden with Robin without marrying her first!  (Did I mention they only ever meet in this garden?  They can’t go to his place or her place so they always meet in this garden.  Gold star to Ms. Burnett for the unsubtle Eden reference there.)

Unfortunately it was all about the marrying in secret and not getting the documents, so to shield her from getting called Big Slut Robin, Lord Coombe marries her in secret.  After some long-term high-quality moping on Robin’s part, a period during which everyone who hangs out with her tells each other what a Sweet Angel Robin she is, the book suddenly turns into a massive spiritualist tract.  Donal, who we later learn is a prisoner of war, starts talking to Robin in her sleep – he very luckily met an American in his POW camp, who taught him this trick – and Robin perks up right away because of the Comfort ™ that she is getting from her Spiritual Encounters with Donal.

And then he comes back alive.  And they’re reunited.  Oh, and Lord Coombe swings it so it’s like his marriage to Robin never happened.  I don’t know how that works because the whole point was that everyone was going to think he was an icky old pervert, marrying his ex-mistress’s daughter, and that was why it was so noble of him to marry Robin; but apparently nobody had noticed yet.  Anyway the marriage with Lord Coombe is then off the table, and Donal confirms that he married Robin.  Still no documents but I guess the word of a Lord’s Heir is good enough.  Donal takes his sweet time going to visit Robin, and then cheats us of the good reunion scene we are entitled to suspect by telling Robin in her dreams the day before he comes back to her.  It’s lame.

I mean, I liked the book a lot – especially when everyone was being coy about Robin and her pregnant state – but hey, man, I wanted my reunion scene.  Stupid spiritualism ruins everything, and don’t let American POWs tell you any different.

The Head of the House of Coombe, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Seriously, how can it be that I have never before known about this book?  This is exactly my kind of book, and I am in total love with its amazing greatness, and I am way, way psyched about reading the thrilling continuation of the story in its sequel, Robin.

Basically there is little angelic Robin and her standoffish airhead twit of a mother, Feather, and Robin is sweet and innocent and only ever makes one friend, the manly gallant eight-year-old Donal, who is promptly whisked away from her because of how sinful and naughty Feather is, being supported financially by the presumably-sleeping-with-her Lord Coombe.  And Robin grows up and gets kidnapped by German spies and then rescued – no, it’s true.  She does.  German spies.  You can’t make that shit up.  It ruins her sweet innocence and rosy outlook on life, which I don’t know why she had one in the first place considering how vile her life was.

There are just so many good things about this book.  Like when Robin, who has been living in a crappy attic room with a wicked pinching nurse while her mother parties downstairs, asks Donal, “What is – a mother?” and also, my personal favorite, “What is – loves you?”  God, it’s amazing.  Oh yeah, and when you find out that Lord Coombe is the way he is because of this lovely frail woman he used to be in love with that looks just like Feather and got beaten to death by her brutal brute of a husband?  That was SO AWESOME.

This is not your mother’s Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I mean, it is my mother’s Frances Hodgson Burnett, because my mum knew about this all along, but it is way not the same as The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.  This is a for-real two-volume novel with young lovers and trials and tribulations.  Loves it.  In some small measure it helps to ease my Ligeia-paper pain, and I will be a-reading Robin (the sequel! in which Robin scandalously gets herself PREGNANT and Donal unsurprisingly gets himself DEAD) this evening before I go to sleep.

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters

I liked Night Watch enough that I got all of Sarah Waters’s other books out of the library in the hopes that I would be getting a grand new favorite author.  Tipping the Velvet was evidently her first, and I didn’t like it as much as Night Watch, sadly, but I still totally enjoyed it.  So much I stayed up until three last night finishing it even though I have a paper to write today.  I’m doing that straightaway after I write this.

Lots of interesting Victorian underworld in this book.  I spent a lot of this book trying to work out what all that mad Victorian slang was about, which was jolly.  Though I did get fed up with Nancy when she was window-shopping at the tobacconist and the dude came up and talked to her and she was dressed as a boy and she like totally talked back.  I was in my room going “Well that’s just GREAT, Nan, you WINDOW-SHOPPING HUSSY.  Hope you’re enjoying offering that UNEQUIVOCAL SEX INVITE with all that crazed WINDOW-SHOPPING TALKING you are doing.  He is OBVIOUSLY trying to pick you up and that might be okay if you weren’t a GIRL, you humongous MORON.”  Not really fair to get so cross about it.  She didn’t know.

I got seriously worked up about Nancy’s behavior and what I wanted to happen.  Like Florence?  I was against Florence from the beginning.  Why’s everyone always ending up with snotty righteous uninteresting people?  It was like that time Dorothea married Casaubon, only more ugh and no dashing young Will for her to hook up with later.  What if Jane Eyre had married St. John?  Ugh.  About forty pages into the book I went and read the end, and there was this random-ass Florence character I’d never met, so I took against from the beginning, and when she finally showed up I was like PFFT, Florence, I hate that bitch.  So it was good really that she was such an aggravatingly virtuous character and I didn’t have to reconsider my early unfriendly assessment of her.

Well, that’s neither here nor there.  Sarah Waters is a good writer.  Tipping the Velvet was good.  We’ll see, won’t we, whether my fondness for her survives reading her other two books.  I’m saving Affinity for last because it’s about spiritualism.  I like spiritualism.  Hester Whatsherface received a whole play all from Oscar Wilde.

Night Watch, Sarah Waters

Recommended by: A Life in Books, sort of, in that she said she loved anything by Sarah Waters and I randomly grabbed Night Watch when I went to the library.

I don’t know if it’s just because I love Britain in World War II or what, but I really, really loved Night Watch.  It was swell.  I so much didn’t want it to end that I put it down and left it alone for ages before returning to it today and finishing it all up in one gobble.

Basically it’s about four (Kay, Viv, Helen, Duncan – yes, four) people in London during and after World War II.  I am really shocking rubbish at plot synopses, but there’s not a lot more to say on this one.  It’s all about them, and it goes in three sections: one in 1947, one in 1944, and one in 1941, in that order.  So you’re reading to find out how things came about, rather than to see where things are going.  In a way I really like this – I love those films or episodes of TV shows where you see people carrying on doing things, where you see things that are clearly significant but you don’t know why, and then they flash back to a previous thing and you find out why it was so significant.

Which is why I loved this book to pieces all through the 1947 section and the 1944 section.  It was just the 1941 section that I thought fell off a little bit.  In a way, it felt really unnecessary – we find out how Kay and Helen met, how Viv and Reggie met, and what happened with Duncan and Alex.  And it was a bad finish to the book, I thought.  Not that I wasn’t interested to know all these things, but that it was a bad way to leave it, because we weren’t finding out anything that washed backward over the rest of the book and imbued it with new meaning, which I guess is what I was hoping for.  The 1944 section did this gorgeously to the 1947 section, but the 1941 stuff?  Neg.  I was sad and let down and depressed.

Oh, but I really liked the book anyway.  Okay, it didn’t end with a bang, but it was mighty interesting all the same.  And I love the Brits during World War II.  Finest hour, man.  Sarah Waters draws these interactions with such nuance.  I was in love with it.  Actually it reminded me a lot of The Charioteer, and I swear it’s not just because they’re both gay-themed WWII books; it’s the delicacy of the relationships and conversations.

Yay for Sarah Waters.  I checked out her other three books from the library, so I will let you know about those.  I was sad to find there were only three.  I know she’s only 42 and there’s no reason she should have dozens of books all written and if she did it might not suggest something flattering about the quality of her writing, but still, I liked Night Watch a lot and I wished there were lots more like it.  I’d like to give her a Favored Authors tag but it seems premature.

Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn

So I read this for my Victorians class, basically because I want to write a paper on it for my final project – that research proposal is due in on Thursday and I’ve given it shockingly little thought in comparison to my usual intensive research schedules with these term paper things – anyway, I’m reading it for my final project, and I didn’t expect it to be any good.  I judge books by their cover, and this cover was rubbish.

I also judge them on really cheap jokes.  The fact that she talks into her little voice recorder, the brand of which is Reeder, makes me throw up a little in my mouth.  Reeder, I married him.  Oop.  There went the acid reflux.  The thing is, Ms. Shinn didn’t maintain this conceit straight through the book, you know?  The book wasn’t a transcript of everything that was recorded by the Reeder.  Most of it was in past tense, and it often talked about her little Reeder voice recorder, so it didn’t work out well, and caused me some dismay.  And also, hi, I’m Jenny, and I don’t like little cutesy jokes about Jane Eyre.

Here’s another thing that caused me some dismay.  Do you know what was wrong with Berthe Rochester (Beatrice Ravenbeck in this version), do you know?  Because I’ll tell you!  She was a malfunctioning cyborg!  She was!  I swear!  I didn’t make that up!  I couldn’t even have made that up if I wanted to which God knows I don’t, because I didn’t know that a cyborg was a part-human-part-robot creature.  Which is what Berthe is here.  A malfunctioning cyborg.  She’s just human enough that poor put-upon Mr. Rochester (Ravenbeck) can’t get rid of her.

I found this whole book trying.  It’s like Ms. Shinn made a big long list of every single scene in Jane Eyre, and then wrote down little notes next to each scene about how she could make them more science-fictiony.  The end result is less than inspiring.  Everyone seems like a cardboard imitation of their original characters in Jane Eyre, and the stuff that’s added in is vastly uninteresting.  I wasn’t, of course, expecting any adaptation to be able to improve on Jane Eyre, which is a book that gives joy to my life; but if Jane Eyre were Oxford, Jenna Starborn would be, like, the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good.

And I’m not just saying that because reading Jenna Starborn caused me to miss out on playing with my nice cousins that I haven’t seen since they were seven and four.  It’s my true opinion.  I would still feel that way if I had been reading Jenna Starborn as an alternative to parking ten eighteen-wheelers on Carlotta Street, or, I don’t know, giving enemas to everyone at the campus health center.  I would.

The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo

Ick.

Edit to add: Edit to add: Yes, ick.  That’s all I have to say about this book.  It creeped me out and I was loath to finish it but I finished it anyway because I was stuck in the airport and I had nothing else to read except for The Ape Who Guards the Balance, which I had already finished, Jenna Starborn, ditto, and my Norton Anthology of American Literature.

It was all about how people with power over other people become power-mad and psychologically abusive.  It was creepy.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was creepy, creepy, creepy, in addition to being, may I just say, bad science; and I know that the author said he was sorry, but I don’t think he was striking the right tone of total all-encompassing abject remorse.  So I say ick to this book.  It was interesting in a way but mainly I felt icky after I had read it and had to wash it down with Doctor Who, Juno, and part of The Two Towers, all of which were my in-flight entertainment.

The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs

Recommended by: A Life in Books

So basically I finished this book late last night and I was dead tired; but I still managed to have many thoughts about it after I had dropped it onto my flip chair and turned off the light, and they all sort of centered around the thought that this man could use some serious cognitive behavioral therapy.  He might really enjoy cognitive behavioral therapy, I was thinking, because of its structured, project-like nature, and furthermore it would make him less crazy (and I use that word in its nicest sense).  I was composing a letter to him in my mind, but then I guess I fell asleep because the next thing I remember was thinking, How lucky are we?  What a fortunate congregation!  Kristin Chenoweth gives such good homilies, and all of them sung in her beautiful voice!

Seriously, though, Mr. Jacobs sounds mad neurotic, and this is from a girl of much anxiety and obsessiveness.  But I’m not in his league, dude.  Whoa.

Now that that’s out of my system, I will say that I enjoyed this book.  It was entertaining, and it was amusing, and I think it’s an interesting kind of project to undertake.  And I know comparisons are odious but! too bad! his other book, to avoid reading my mum’s birthday gift copy of which I checked this one out of the library, was funnier – but maybe I am just prejudiced in its favor because I liked the encyclopedia project idea a lot better.

This project wasn’t as structured to begin with, and the result is that the writing is less tight, and the structure he uses for the book doesn’t really work.  It’s organized chronologically, and it prevents everything from being orderly, even a teeny bit orderly.  It’s just messy.  Messy.  I don’t like a mess.  I think he would have done better organizing it in chapters by commandment clusters, rather than by time.

As I say, I enjoyed the book, but I wouldn’t buy it and I doubt I’ll read it again.  The Know-It-All, those bits of it I read at the bookshop, seemed like more of a keeper.  When my mum finishes it and I can borrow her copy, I will let you know if I am correct. (I think I will be.) (I usually am.)

Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer

Well, I have just finished up Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer’s third trashy vampire book.  In case you were wondering whether all the trashy continues unabated, the answer is a resounded and unqualified YES.

Basically, in this book, Bella and Edward have lots of anxieties for several reasons, including 1) she misses Jacob and wants to play with him; and 2) he (Edward, not Jacob) wants to get married and she doesn’t; and 3) she wants to have sex and he (still Edward, not Jacob) doesn’t; and 4) a vampire they pissed off a while ago is making a massive army of baby vampires to kill Bella.  The angst is ceaseless.

Also, Jacob still loves Bella.  He’s more twenty-five-y than sixteen-y these days, so everyone can stop worrying about whether Bella’s a pedophile.  Because, yes, that’s been bothering me a little bit as she inched closer to nineteen and he was still only sixteen.  I did the equation and figured out she’s still okay until he’s 16 and a half, but nevertheless it was bugging me a bit.  He is also no longer cooler than Edward, because now he’s threatening suicide in order to make Bella slip him some tongue.  Lame.  If there’s one thing I hate even more than your garden variety emotional manipulation, it’s emotionally manipulative suicide threats.

To return to the point, however: My stars, this book was trashy, and for some reason, not as absorbing as the first two.  I’ve been trying to decide why that is, and I think it may be because we’ve got all the characters now and nothing new is really being developed.  In Twilight, there was Edward, and Bella was working out things with Edward; and then in New Moon, there was Jacob and she was working out things with Jacob.  In this one we’ve already got them both and Bella’s just being wishy-washy and working nothing out at all except that she really, really, really doesn’t want to get married right out of high school, because she’s afraid of being trailer trash or something.  She wasn’t doing anything, and neither was anyone, except getting very protective of her.  There were lots of pissing contests between Edward and Jacob – first the nice normal pissing contests and then the more subtle ones where they were both all trying to love Bella the best.  And it got tiresome.  I quit reading it and went to bed.  If the next one isn’t more interesting, well I’ll just be.  You know.  Cross.

Hmm – do you think I’m becoming jaded and growing to hate all books everywhere?  The last several books I’ve read haven’t impressed me.  Maybe my brain is on new book overload.  But no, because I’m enjoying Night Watch a lot.  But maybe, because if I can’t enjoy a trashy vampire novel, WHAT KIND OF SOUL-DEAD CREATURE AM I?

Wolf Woman, Sherryl Jordan

I swear to God I will try and say some eloquent things about Night Watch which I am really enjoying, but I can’t even be bothered with Wolf Woman.  Sherryl Jordan?  What happened here?  Have you no sense of humor at all?  This is not an interesting story and exhibits a woeful lack of any sense of humor at all ever even a little bit ever.

The Juniper Game, Sherryl Jordan

“What I want to do,” said Juniper, “is an experiment in mental telepathy.”  She hesitated, waiting for his reaction.  There wasn’t one.  “I know I have some telepathic abilities,” she went on more confidently.  “I can go through a pack of cards, face down, and guess about fifteen correctly.  And I often know who it is when the phone rings before I answer it.  But I want to try mental telepathy with someone else.  I want to try giving someone else my thoughts.  Images are easier to receive than words.  They’re more intuitive somehow, not so tied up in logic and reason.  I want to see if I can send images to someone else and whether they can draw what they receive.  I need someone who’s sensitive and a good artist.”

Dylan’s gaze shifted, and his eyes met hers.  “Me, you mean?” he said.

She smiled unexpectedly.  “Who else, Leonardo?  You’re perfect.”

This is one of those books my mum picked up for no special reason for my sisters and me and it turned out to be really good.  Or maybe my sister picked it up for no special reason and it turned out to be really good.  Whatever.

It’s about a boy called Dylan (why Dylan? don’t ask me) who is a bit of a geek and a loser but he’s brilliant at art, that lucky duck, and one day this beautiful popular mysterious girl called Juniper (what a good name!) notices he’s good at art and enlists him for her private psychic image-sending project.  At first they’re just sending images of things she goes and sees, but after a while it turns out that her ultimate goal was to travel mentally through time and send him images from Back In The Day.  The witch-burning day, as it goes.  And things get very intense for everyone.

(I find it tricky to cast a critical eye upon books I’ve been fond of for a while.)

I really, really like this book.  Juniper is a good name, for one thing, and for another thing, I have always wanted to be able to do psychic things.  All my faintly-psychic family members, as well as this book, assure me that this is no desirable thing and in fact can be very annoying for your brain, but still, although I mostly believe them, I am always a teeny bit jealous and wish I were not so completely close-brained.   But I think Ms. Jordan does a good job of integrating the supernatural elements of the plot with Dylan and Juniper’s family lives and the effect of their relationship on everyone else.  And the supernatural elements are most interesting.

It just occurred to me Sherryl Jordan has probably written other books, and – hey!  the library says that indeed, yes she has.  Yay.  There are six books of hers at my university library, and six at the public library, and I forgot to pay attention to the titles, so I don’t know how much overlap we’re looking at, but anyway, there are definitely at least seven of her books that exist and are available to me and I haven’t read them yet.  Oh goody.