Page 73: In Which Our Heroine Starts Wondering About the Provenance of the Word Broccoli, and Has Heroes Finished Downloading Yet? A Portentous Sign.
Kate Mosse (no, not that junky stick insect one, but presumably not pronounced to rhyme with Bob Fosse), has gifted the world with the current doorstop I am reading, Sepulchre, as well as a previous book titled Labyrinth. I picked up Sepulchre because, hey, cool title, and a quick read of the flap told me that it was set in and during one of my favorite periods of art history, 1890s Fronce. And then apparently there is a mystery involved at some point involving an estate and crazy tarot cards and it was all sounding very Wuthering Heights-esque, which is good. I like some over the top Romantic freakout. Notice I said Romantic, not Romance.
It is important for you to know that I am actually a very forgiving reader. Oprah says to give a book fifty pages, and on that matter she is the boss of me. Everyone writes a little differently, and sometimes it takes me or them a while to warm up and start really getting into the story. But this starts corny and just gets worse from there.
Sepulchre flashes back and forth between the main character of the 1890s story, and the current day main character. I suppose at some point their stories will intersect, but they are both so dull it will be like someone rushing up to you VERY EXCITED that they have discovered this great new taste combination, oatmeal and Cream of Wheat.
Nineteenth-century Oatmeal, who is called Leonie, is a plucky, spirited, beautiful, self-possessed, curious seventeen-year-old who happens to resemble a Rossetti painting and lives upstairs from Achille Debussy, who, have you heard? has just started going by “Claude.” And so another author births another Mary Sue into this world. Oatmeal’s cher Maman was On The Barricades Throwin’ Shit (cue Les Miz soundtrack) It’s like watching paint dry. I mean, it’s like watching history happen!
Oatmeal’s brother, Anatole, seems a little more interesting. One of the first scenes unfolds at the opera house where some impolite motherfuckers start beating ass because the orchestra is playing Wagner. Don’t like Wagner? Stay home and nurse your consumption, then. Oatmeal gets ditched at the opera because Anatole was a no-show. Why was Anatole a no-show and then shifty about why he was late? Could it be that he, BFF of the soon-to-be-famous composer Debussy, was involved in the riots somehow? If these mysterious plot anvils are a sign of the deeping mysteriousness to come, then I will just have to stop right here and fuck off for some absinthe in sufficient quantity to forget passages like these:
But her looks were misleading. Oatmeal was determined rather than obedient, bold rather than modest, a girl of contemporary passions, not a demure damsel.
…Which is funny because not four pages later the riot starts and Oatmeal is stricken with fright, gets her dress caught on a floor bolt, does nothing to intervene when a pro-Wagnerian is stabbed to death mere feet away from her, and has to be carried out by her frere perdu. Where’s your bold now, Oatmeal? When you tell us one thing and show us another, the reader feels cheated.
So there are flowery passages like these, with a smattering of unnecessary high school level French a donkey could probably figure out. The first time Oatmeal opened her mouth, she spoke Fronch, and I immediately was all SACRE ROJO this could be an interesting literary device. [Aside: I am mixing my genres here but I have to say I enjoy Dexter when the cops slip into Spanish without subtitles. It seems very natural, and I don't catch every word. This is something I also enjoyed about Firefly, the Chinese swears. I don't need to be spoonfed to understand and enjoy the story.] I flipped ahead and saw that it was just second-year French mixed up with English. Suddenly I was imagining Brad Pitt stumbling his way through Interview with a Vampire, or Kevin Costner as Robin Hood: Alan Rickman What Are You Doing Here?
I was going to leave the previous paragraph be, but I have to elaborate some, so you can understand the full measure of the fail. The precious and selective use of the French, the presentation of the nineteenth century to the modern American outsider…it’s jarring, and it keeps the reader out of the action. We don’t need to be told with regards to the history of a diagonal boulevard, “a nervous French king sought a safe and direct route to his evening’s entertainment.” WHAT? A FRENCH king you say? In France? Thanks for clearing that up. We get too much exposition by the way of wordy passages relating to history, while at the same time we seem to need to hit every nineteenth-century set piece (the gas lamps, the elbow-length silk gloves, “Don’t freaking call me Achille” Debussy), as well as every ninteenth-century attitude (“Of all the insolent, impertinent scoundrels,” he growled, leaning back in his chair. “Quite disgraceful. Who does the blackguard think he is, insulting you in such a manner.” LOL, blackguard).
After the opera fracas, the reader further discovers that Anatole has gambling debts, he gets his ass beat on the street by masked miscreants and seems to be generally in deep merde, and so has a reason to get out of Dodge for a while. HOW CONVENIENT, then, that a letter arrives from a distant tante inviting plucky, bold, impetuous Oatmeal to come and stay at her estate in the South of Fronce to which Oatmeal immediately stamps her petite chaussure and replies with “EEK, what if it sucks sooo bad?” Narrator, why are you trying to convince us that Oatmeal is something she’s not? Are you her PR or something? Anatole says, “Hells yes, I’ll go with you!” Why is Anatole not the star of this book?
And then it seems to be increasingly veering off into incest territory. Oatmeal obviously has a thing for her brother who is le bad-ass, and as she makes a list in her head of the reasons to go visit mysterious auntie of mysteriousness, she caps with “To have Anatole to myself.” So now I’m thinking, well, at least this is turning into good slash fiction. Oatmeal want a little cayenne in there? 10-4, whatever. I can read this in bed, unlike the Hobbit slash (JUST an example) on the internet. But I turn the page, and…
OH NOES, It’s October 2007, and there are more Mary Sues to trot out and torment the reader with! Meet Cream of Wheat (CoW), twenty-eight year old academic, genius, retired genius musician (“She wrapped her violin in its red silk cloth and put it away in the blue-velveteen-lined case. Loosened her valuable bows, clipped them in place in the lid. Put the block of golden rosin into its special compartment. Stood the case in the back of her closet and left it behind when she left Milwaukee and went off to college.”) Wrote more sentences without subjects to heighten the emotional impact and depth of CoW. Betrayed the reader repeatedly. Who then wandered off to do something else.
It is a bad sign when chapters on the 2007 side begin with “The rest of the afternoon went according to plans.” NO, NO, BORING! You’re doing it wrong. Throw someone off the bus FFS, or arrange another riot. There isn’t even an Anatole in 2007, skipping out of his bets and getting le beatdown. CoW has a supposedly deep and secret background of being abandonated by her mother…and then going on to have a perfect genius life after. Oh, I see. If you’re going to be all melodramacakes, then at least give us a Dickensian history to go with it. CoW is merely wandering boringly around Paris snapping pics of all the places that Debussy slept. CoW is going to write the most radical Debussy bio ever. There are descriptions of park benches. There are descriptions of hotel decor. This is a description of how you can feel robbed, even by a free library book. Oh, there is something about a tarot card lady “CALL ME NAO FOR YER FREE READIN” but I don’t care.
So when I fling the book aside to do something interesting, like play Progress Quest, CoW is about to go stay at the estate, now a five-star hotel, that Oatmeal was headed towards with the mysterious auntie and all. When worlds collide! The mystery endeepens, except OH YEAH, nothing has happened of real interest yet! Will I finish this book? Only if on the very next page rocks fall and everyone dies. Emerging from the rubble is the only survivor from the current narrative: Anatole, Le Bad-Ass!
Teal deer Version: Anne Rice in a Lincoln Child/Douglas Preston sandwich. DNW.