Thursday, January 22, 2009

TWIN REVIEWS: Bath

CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT
Laurie Viera Rigler
TIME TRAVEL


BATH TANGLE
Georgette Heyer
HISTORICAL FICTION


Premise

Contemporary woman wakes up in the body and home of an Austen-era woman.
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Newly-orphaned woman learns her financial affairs have been left in the control of her ex-fiance.


What Works
Never mind how enticing and romantic history looks in period cinema - what would it really be like for someone used to modern-day comforts (and flaws) to experience a bygone world? The author's experiment of how this could play out was an interesting one. In her regular existence, her heroine escapes unpleasant realities in the pages of Ms. Austen's works, but soon learns that life in Regency England - especially for a young woman, even if of relatively privileged position - is not all dancing and roses. She goes from a flippant sort of perspective, thinking what she does in this world doesn't really matter since she will soon wake up in her true world, to a gradual understanding that her actions and speech can have potentially devastating consequences for the woman whose body she inhabits (for example, the very real threat of confinement in an insane asylum), the servants who may be blamed for things she does, and her family and friends who can be destroyed by association with a woman of potentially ruined reputation. Though she doesn't ever completely stop chafing at the restrictions and double standards placed upon women historically, she does develop an appreciation for the quieter pleasures of life, and respect for individuals who hold not only others but themselves up to much more encompassing moral standards than she is used to.
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Reading a contemporary, American woman's description of the historical social scene in the city of Bath alongside a previous-generation, English woman's description of the same thing was entertaining.


What Doesn't
For a time travel novel, apart from the appearance of a wise Gypsy woman there was virtually no explanation of how the phenomenon took place or was reversed, and absolutely none of what happened on the other end (did the woman whose body was inhabited 'stay' there in a dormant state, or did she wake up in modern times?). On an intellectual level, Apprentice Writer can understand that the focus of the story was on the heroine's developing insights, making the time travel mechanism secondary. As a reader, though, she felt grouchy not to get more detail. A machine disguised as ordinary everyday appliance? Magic rainbow? Disembodied voice and invisible transporting hand? Give this reader something, anything; she promises not to snark it.
It also felt odd how negatively the heroine viewed her Austen-time mother, due to he latter's obsession with marrying her off. This preoccupation is easy to see as humorous and old-fashioned from a modern perspective, but it seemed strange for the heroine to ridicule it considering her adoration of Austen novels (her single greatest joy in the stoy is being able to read first editions) and the fact that The Big One contains that excellent scene when Mrs. Bennet, up to then a slightly comical character due to similar fixation, is mildly chastised by her daughter for it and she draws herself up magnificently to deliver a succinct summary about the harsh reality of finding spouses (i.e. lowering the odds of spinsterhood near-starvation) for five daughters. One of the most outstanding reality-check scenes of all time, yet the heroine seems to overlook it entirely.
*
Works by Georgette Heyer, the late and highly prolific author, are enjoying a renaissance of interest. This title was Apprenctice Writer's first foray after reading waves of praise for the author's witty, original characters, dialogue, and plotting. At the half-way point of 'Bath Tangle', she was still waiting for something to happen, and for all the wit and originality to appear. Mostly, the story till then consisted of exclamation points (many, many per page) and various characters commenting on the poor behavior of others. Luckily, the authors at Risky Regencies came to AW's rescue by chatting about their Heyer favorites. When AW confessed what hard going she was finding "Bath Tangle" they assured her this is not the author's best work, suggestd a slew of better ones, and even (gulp) suggested she abandon this title without guilty conscience. So she did.

Overall
A thoughtful exploration of adjustment to a different world.
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Heyer judgement on hold; curious about whether the exclamation mark fondness will show up elsewhere.

Gentle Reader - how do you feel about time travel being explained? If you have read 'Bath Tangle', do you think AW was right to DNF or should she persevere?




3 comments:

Abby said...

Haven't tried Bath Tangle. My fave Heyer so far (I've read about five I think) is Venetia.

The exclamation points - get used to 'em. Heyer must have single-handedly kept that piece of punctuation alive for half a century. You stop seeing them after a while...

Julia Smith said...

'Curious about whether the exclamation mark fondness will show up elsewhere' - AW

'Heyer must have single-handedly kept that piece of punctuation alive for half a century.' - Abby

LOL!

AW, just wanted to comment on your posts about the outgoing and incoming presidents: excellent choice of bushisms, see-ya-wouldn't-want-to-be-ya, I wept with joy at the inauguration and leaped for joy when Obama gave the axe to Guantanamo.

As for time travels - not explaining the time travel makes me wonder why the author went for this genre. Explain it, or write contemporary or historical - you can't just alter the space-time-continuum willy-nilly.

M. said...

Abby - I've keep hearing about 'Venetia'- I'll have to keep my eyes open for it

Julia - I'm glad I'm not the only one irked by glaring time-travel explanation omission! I thought maybe I was being too obsessive about it. And I, also, was very happy about the first day order to close Gitmo.