Thursday, July 09, 2020

93. Madeleine

Madeleine. Elvi Rhodes. 1989/2011. 512 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 First sentence: Walking along the narrow street, her hand resting lightly in the crook of George Carter’s arm, Madeleine was filled to the brim with rebellious thoughts. They coursed through her body and tingled in her fingertips until she felt sure that they must be conveyed to the man beside her. The sensation was so physical that she found herself compressing her lips into a tight line as if to prevent her feelings spilling out into words; words which she knew would surprise, even shock, George, coming from someone on her way home from chapel. But then he was easily shocked, wasn’t he? He was so good, so upright. She doubted if he had ever had a rebellious thought in his life. And since he continued to walk along without so much as turning to look at her she doubted that he had the slightest inkling of how she was feeling at this moment.

Premise/plot: Madeleine is a historical romance novel set in the 1850s in Yorkshire. Madeleine, our heroine, is a servant for the Parkinson family. Readers are told that this is the wealthiest family in the small town of Helsdon. But they only ever mention two possibly three servants: a cook, Mrs. Thomas, and Madeleine. (If there's a butler or stable boy, he's never named. I wouldn't be surprised if there was one or the other or both. But maybe because they don't figure into the story they're not named or mentioned. I have a hard time believing that an actually wealthy family at that time would only have two to four servants.) Madeleine is first and foremost rebellious and angry. She's rebelling against her father who is religious and attends chapel whenever its doors are open. She's rebelling against the Parkinsons though really her conflict is just with the so-called spoiled daughter, Sophia, with whom she clashes upon occasion. Sophia our antagonist, if you will, is actually spoiled. (But I couldn't help feeling that I liked her better for the first half of the book. Because I'd take flighty and vain over rebellious, brooding anger and resentment any day.) Mr. Parkinson, a mill owner, brings home a french man, Leon Bonneau, who is in a similar line of work in France. Sophia falls head over heels in love--think Scarlett's obsession with Ashley. Madeleine waits upon Mr. Bonneau while he is staying there and the two become slightly slightly friendly. (Though neither is exactly swooning for the other....yet). But after a trip abroad goes WRONG, Madeleine finds herself quitting that job and taking up work as a weaver at a mill (you know, as you do). Will Madeleine be happier as a mill worker? Will Leon and Sophie marry? Will the Parkinsons continue to be "wealthy"?

My thoughts: I liked this one well enough to keep reading. At no point did I say enough is enough is enough I can't stand the characters anymore. But I did have a few thoughts. First, I think the author must really love Gone With The Wind. The dialogue seems a bit modeled after Scarlett O'Hara. Along with one or two elements. Second, there is a LOT of cocoa drinking going on. You would think that they'd be more tea drinking! Third, do romance writers purposely make their characters dim-witted so that obstacles loom larger and seem impossible?! I mean that would be one explanation why things with obvious and mostly easy solutions would seem IMPOSSIBLE AND AGONIZING. I'd rather believe the characters are silly and dim then the author is unaware. Fourth--and finally--Madeleine seems to be a relatively contemporary woman (perhaps born circa 1950 or 1960) than one born in the 1830s. She just seems a bit off. The other characters--perhaps because we don't live inside their minds--seem to be a slightly better fit with the 1850s.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Michelle Ann said...

I know what you mean when you say characters in novels often make mountains out of molehills. Have you read Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons? I really enjoyed that, as the author has fun showing what happens when a sensible woman goes to live at the Gothic farm of her relatives, who all live life at smouldering (and inefficient) intensity!

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