Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: THE RAIN-GIRL by Herbert George Jenkins

book cover the rain girl Original Publication Date: 1919

Genre: Romantic comedy

Topics: Depression, suicide, family, society            

Review by heidenkind:

Recently home from the trenches of WWI, Richard Beresford finds that he simply cannot deal with stuff anymore. Not his former job at the Foreign Office, not his family, not the whole getting-up-in-the-morning and getting-dressed thing, or eating or reading or hobbies or anything at all. So he decides he's just going to wander around and be tramp. His very proper family is horrified, but he ignores them, sells all his possessions (aside from his books), and starts off across the countryside. No sooner can you say survival skills, however, than he comes across a manic pixie dream girl sitting on a gate in the rain, happy as you please. Richard is enchanted with the young woman and becomes obsessed with finding her, even though he only knows her by his nickname for her: The Rain-Girl.

You might recognize the name Herbert George Jenkins from another of his romantic comedies, Patricia Brent, Spinster, which Liz reviewed here a little over a year ago. As much as I enjoyed Patricia Brent, Spinster–and I did enjoy it a lot more than Liz did; I thought it was a charming and delightful Cinderella story–The Rain-Girl is much better. While Patricia Brent, Spinster, was a tad predictable and suffered from a surfeit of incredible coincidences, The Rain-Girl is much more grounded and goes to some surprisingly dark places while still maintaining the clever dialog and humor of a comedy.

Richard is obviously suffering from what we would call post-traumatic stress syndrome. He wants to check out of life, by which I mean he no longer cares if he lives or dies, and is in fact leaning more towards the latter. There are moments in The Rain-Girl where Richard is perilously close to committing suicide, and there are conversations between him and his cousin, Lord Drewitt, where they argue that they should have the right to kill themselves if they like–after all, it's *their* life. If you can't end it went you want, what can you do?

All this probably makes The Rain-Girl sound like a downer, but it's not. Richard doesn't really want to kill himself, he just doesn't know to cope with life anymore, at least not until he's faced with the challenge of finding the Rain-Girl. Lord Drewitt, who's in the book quite a bit, is filled with sarcastic quips and clever bon mots, and his mother–Richard's aunt–adds a nice bit of spice to things trying to keep her son and nephew in order.

Basically, The Rain-Girl is a really fun book even if Richard has some serious shit to deal with. The world is the same one occupied by the main characters of Patricia Brent, Spinster–Lady Tenegra even makes an appearance–so if you enjoy novels set amongst English high society, this one's your jam.

As for the eponymous Rain-Girl, I called her a MPDG in the summary, but she's really not. I expected her to be, but Richard's attraction goes deeper than that even in the beginning. He likes her because she's interesting and different and doesn't fit in, kind of like how he feels he doesn't fit in anywhere anymore; and he admires her ability to enjoy something that's usually considered bad, like the rain. She's also not a "girl," but a woman whose quirky exterior belies a very serious and independent character.

Basically, if you enjoy historical romances, I think you'll really like The Rain-Girl. I really wish more of Jenkins' romances were available!

Download The Rain-Girl by Herbert George Jenkins at Librivox|Internet Archive

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Original Publication Date: 1891  
Genre: Novel
Topics: Morality, sexual standards in gender
Review by: Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings

Tess of the D'Urbervilles   
by Thomas Hardy

Rarely have I ever had such a visceral reaction to a book. I have read a few other Hardy novels and so at this point I expect tragedy. But this one still blew me away. It broke my heart in so many ways, but Hardy’s writing made the whole experience oddly beautiful, despite the inevitable disaster that you know if coming.

The brilliance of his writing is just breathtaking. The scenes he creates are incredibly beautiful. Alec is such a brilliant villain because of the very fact that he is so relatable to different men. As Hardy himself says, Tess’ own male ancestors probably did the same thing to peasant girls. It's so horrifying and common at the same time and Alec has no real understanding that what he's doing is wrong. He knows what he wants he decides he's going to take it. There's no consideration for anything else.

Tess’ family is poor, but they discover they are descendants of a wealthy local family. She is sent to befriend the family and see if they can improve her own family’s situation. She meets Alec D'Urbervilles and soon her life is changed forever. I can’t say too much more without spoilers, except that it’s a powerful book, but not a cheery one. 

I’ve never hated a character as much as I hated Alec. He is a rapist, a manipulator, and worst of all, he honestly doesn’t think he’s done much wrong in the first half of the novel. At one point Alec says something about how Tess shouldn’t have worn a certain dress and bonnet because it made her too pretty. The “you were asking for it” mentality was present even back then when dress was far more modest. It was so frustrating and infuriating. He manipulated every situation, forcing her to be alone with him, to rely on him for help, etc.

His condescending nicknames made my skin crawl. When he calls her “Tessie” or “my little pretty” it made me nauseous because she was shrinking away from him and begging him quietly to stop touching her. She said again and again that she did not love him and she was scared of him. She never feels comfortable with him. From their very first interaction, as he makes her eat strawberries from his hand, she is uncomfortable and wants to go home immediately. There was no infatuation only a feeling in her gut that he was not someone to be trusted.

On top of that, Angel’s absurd double standard for his actions and her actions was infuriating. The worst part is that both men, the “good” one and the “bad” one share the same mentality about the situation. Both blame Tess but never themselves. The same attitude is around today, even though women have many more options, they are often shamed when they are sexually assaulted. 
The book is split into different phases and the second one begins after the infamous event. Tess is so broken; she's not even scared of Alec anymore because he's already done the worst to her that he could possibly do. She's resigned to her fate and full of sorrow. I kept thinking about how many other women over hundreds of years have gone through the same thing and are just completely broken afterwards and no one understands why. The man took something from her that she did not want to give and society treats it as if he didn't really do anything wrong. They justify it and say things like, maybe she gave off the wrong signals or put herself in a bad situation. It's just horrible.  **SPOILERS OVER** 
BOTTOM LINE: This is not a cheerful book. Every time Tess’ situation improves, heartache is just around the corner. But Hardy deals with it in such a raw and personal way that it is relevant even a century later. His writing transcends the subject matter and I’ve learned that I’ll read whatever he’s written.

** My Penguin Clothbound Classic edition discusses the different versions of the novel that were released. The original release presented a much harsher version of Hardy. Apparently he toned it down and made him more appealing in later versions, which is interesting.

“‘I shouldn’t mind learning why the sun do shine on the just and the unjust alike,’ she answered with a slight quaver in her voice. ‘But that’s what books will not tell me.’” 
“The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.”

Originally posted at Avid Reader's Musings

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