Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Problem with Equality: Book Review by MLHolton

A clear-cut forest ridge. The pulp and paper industry ravages global forests ...

Equality is a much-lauded quality, but in truth, it is a perpetuated falsehood.

What the heck, really, is ‘equal’?

As example, I was recently looking at two tomatoes that I had picked from the same tomato vine in my garden. One was perfect in every way. The other was mangled and ruined by a parasite. Both pieces of fruit came from the same tomato vine, both had the same genetic make-up, and yet, one, through no perceptible fault of its own, was ravaged by a parasitic bug. (One does wonder: was there some inherent blemish in the skin of that particular piece of fruit that permitted the bug to get in?  Hard to say. Other factors could have been involved: wind currents, innate larvae or fractional differences in sun and water nurturing, etc.)  The fact remains: two pieces of fruit from the very same vine offered two very different kinds of fruit.

I have run into this ‘inequality' again in the recent reading of two debut novels. One is a stand-out effort with a writer showing much promise. The other was a mess from start to finish. Both works spring from the same vine of language, English, and yet, the results were so starkly different. 

Why so?  I believe, at core, it comes down to a love of the English language. When English is well loved and well used, it is a precise tool that has the ability to both conjure and convey thoughts in the minds of others. Truth instantly resonates. If a writer appreciates the precision of English, they not only admire and revere their successful predecessors' efforts, they work hard to craft a literary offspring worthy of inclusion in the long written history of that language. If, on the other hand, a writer does not care a fig about the English language, that disregard, disinterest and disrespect are immediately evident. This 'writer' simply doesn't care - and it immediately shows in the careless crafting of their work. 

The one that is a mess will not be discussed in detail in this review. Suffice it to say that after I plowed through to the bitter end, I was embarrassed for the author that so much precious paper had been wasted on that crude vanity effort. (I really did try to overcome the terrible writing and just focus on the story to find the merit. But even then, cookie-cutter stereotypes, preachy diatribes and long-winded alliterations overwhelmed the interesting kernel of a tale ... Yes, ‘a story’ was in there but it was 100% lost in the appalling story-telling. This wannabe-writer desperately needs a very patient and good editor in order to learn the basics of structure, compelling 'voice' and plot development. But, even then, sadly, a good editor cannot teach a love of, or for, the English language.)

In comparison, Kelly Miller’s debut regency romance, Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley House', was a thoroughly refreshing read. 

Not only was the mother-vine of the English language used with alacrity, this well-paced novel kept my interest from the get-go. 

This was my first read of ‘fan fiction’. 

In this instance, the title is a supposed projection of Jane Austen’s classic, ‘Pride & Prejudice’, with a revisit to the famed characters loved by so many, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. 

At the start of this story, we discover that they have wed and had a child, a boy, who they have named Bennet.

I personally don’t think it necessary to have read the Austen classic to follow or enjoy this ‘drama piece’. More to the point, ‘Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley House’ is a carefully-crafted Regency Period fan fiction. 

Throughout, Ms. Miller was very careful in her choice of detail. She judiciously uses arcane words to describe everyday occurrences and wardrobe highlights. Old-fashioned words do lend authenticity to this hybrid form of historical fiction. Details from grand manor estates, the supportive stables and horses therein, the exquisite gowns, top-coats and hair-pins - all swirl around the poised personalities of the good and not so good characters. We are successfully transported to another era.

The early injection of a visible other-world nemesis, the Angel of Death, is an unexpected out-of-the-gate starter. The angel, a 'Mr. Graham', inhabits the body of a deceased other who quickly becomes the unexpected house guest at Pemberley House. But his bold introduction and continued presence does not overpower the other well flushed-out cast of characters in the story. Lords and ladies grace the pages in varying degrees of nobleness and pettiness. Their percolating emotions are, in the main, hidden behind well-constructed social facades that act-out in predictable social settings. Periodically, direct and intimate thoughts are given as asides in italics. 

The story unfolds at a trot. 

I was particularly taken by Ms. Miller’s ability to pirouette from scene to scene. The scene changes oscillated with the on-going under-current of the narrative and pulled the reader on. (Will she or won’t she? Did he or didn’t he?) These underlying and interwoven dilemmas added heat to the stateliness of the exposition. As example, the diabolical machinations of an ill-tempered conniver, Lady Catherine, and her hood-winked accomplice-in-crime, Lady Rebecca, are offered in clear contrast to the consistent good-will and abiding love between Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam. 

When additional family members arrive for a surprise birthday celebration, the emotional drama intensifies. The Angel of Death, aka Mr. Graham, while hitherto well-tempered to the circumstances, begins to loom over them all. We press on to a measured canter that suddenly breaks into a gallop  ...

‘Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley House’ is a mannered novel, (in more ways than one). But if you are intrigued by the rule of families by families, the on-going economic advantages of marriage to protect family status and the long-standing reality of family legacy, you will be quietly captivated by this well-written story as it explores the persistent social tensions that threaten true love.

Kelly Miller is a writer who knows what she is doing. She has provided readers with a strong but simple story, underpinned with a solid moral structure - albeit with a bright flare of the fantastic.

‘Death Takes a Holiday at Pemberley House’ deftly displays the vices and virtues that plague and enhance humanity - in any age. Thankfully, it is well-worth the paper it is printed on.

Pick up your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Death-Takes-Holiday-Pemberley-Prejudice-ebook/dp/B07SWY9RCH


D.G. Kaye said...

I appreciated reading your assessment of two different 'tomatoes' Margaret. Your description of the unreviewable book is exactly the problem I recently ran into with a book. The words were there - grammar, punctuation - along with too many disconnected plots, NO dialogue and no voice. Thank you. :)

Canadada said...

Thanks DG! With apologies for responding so late to your comment. I just saw it now! Hope all is better with you and that you are surviving this HOT summer in some shade ... :)