At first I imagined this would be about hormone-addled young men downing entire kegs of beer in some squalid frat house.
I was in for a surprise. This...moreAt first I imagined this would be about hormone-addled young men downing entire kegs of beer in some squalid frat house.
I was in for a surprise. This book recounts, in a fast-paced, comedic, tongue-in-cheek style, the adventures of Rollo Hemphill (I know, I too wondered about that, but Rollo is not into marijuana, or any other kind of illicit drugs.)
We find Rollo working - or rather not working - as a car jockey at Wuthering Palms, a luxurious Los Angeles hotel. There the love of his life, Felicia, practices the art of cosmetology. Monica LaMonica, the waning soap opera star, lives almost incognito in a bungalow on the hotel grounds and patronizes Felicia’s salon.
At first Rollo comes across as a young man without much of a past, present or future. Felicia won’t give him the time of day, the lowest-ranking of his fellow employees don’t even try to hide their contempt, and, as far as Monica is concerned, he might as well be one of the cockroaches that infest even the most palatial places in the city.
But we soon realize that there is more to Rollo than meets the eye. Rollo is the kind of young man who doesn’t hesitate to go out on a limb for the sake of love, especially when that limb is too frail to bear his weight, no matter how light. In a nutshell, Rollo has already been in some trouble, and more trouble is coming his way.
Only at that point does Rollo's inflatable friend appear in the story. Its purpose is not, contrary to what the author slyly (mis)leads the reader to expect, solitary sexual gratification. I will not reveal what it is meant to achieve: no spoilers here.
So what did I not like in this book? The title and the cover. Not only do I find them misleading, but they probably turn off many potential female readers.
And what did I like? About everything else. It is the story of a young man who is at last turning into an adult, though he is not completely there at the end of the novel. Rollo shows that he is capable of professional achievement, true love, and even integrity. I understand that Gerald has sequels coming (titled Rubber Babes and Farnworth's Revenge.) I look forward to reading them and wouldn't be surprised if this tale were ultimately one of redemption. I do hope so, because I grew very fond of Rollo, in a sort of motherly, protective way.
Also, as an Angelena, I feel that the novel captures the spirit of the city in all of its glorious and maddening shallowness and complexity: the surgically enhanced stars, the ambitious immigrants, the arrogant waiters, the palm trees swaying in the breeze... On the silver screen, this would make a delightful bittersweet romantic comedy.(less)
Indispensable, if a bit dry. One could have wished for more research outside the Austen family archives, and a more lively presentation of Eliza, give...moreIndispensable, if a bit dry. One could have wished for more research outside the Austen family archives, and a more lively presentation of Eliza, given the interest of the subject.(less)
The French Restoration (1814-1830) is an era woefully neglected by historical novelists. Fortunately, Elena Maria Vidal helps fill this void with her...moreThe French Restoration (1814-1830) is an era woefully neglected by historical novelists. Fortunately, Elena Maria Vidal helps fill this void with her Madame Royale.
Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte de France, Duchesse d’Angoulême, was the eldest child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and later the last Queen of France, albeit for a few minutes, until her husband’s abdication on a fateful day of July 1830. For most of her life, she was known simply as Madame Royale.
Vidal gives us a gripping portrait of a woman whose personal destiny is enmeshed with the convulsions of the French Revolution and European history. In the novel, we first meet Thérèse, as we will simply call her, in her English exile, presiding over the shabby court of her uncle, King Louis XVIII. There I must admit to being prejudiced: the setting of the beginning of Vidal’s novel is exactly the same as that of the conclusion of my own Mistress of the Revolution: Hartwell House, an estate in the English countryside. I had not read Madame Royale when I wrote my own novel, and was startled by the coincidence.
The point of view of the novel is that of Thérèse, which is to say informed by her royalist conviction and deeply held Catholic faith. A lesser novelist might have been carried away by her identification with her heroine, and tempted to give us a hagiographic description of the royal family and its supporters. But here we get to see historical characters, flaws and all. We meet King Louis XVIII, who “did not like to discuss conspiracies, since he himself had been involved in so many.” True enough, Louis XVI had no more determined and dangerous enemy than this all too clever brother.
We also meet his Queen, Marie-Josephine de Savoie, no less an enemy to Marie-Antoinette in the glory of her past Versailles days, now a pathetic alcoholic, blurting out inconvenient truths in front of her husband and courtiers, and yet touched by the grace of contrition at the very end of her life. And Vidal’s description of the Comte d’Artois, later King Charles X, is equally accurate: an aging dandy of great intellectual mediocrity, whom even the ordeals of the Revolution could not turn into a statesman.
Thérèse alone lends dignity, and legitimacy, to these surviving Bourbons. Her allegiance to her uncle Louis XVIII silences those who raise questions about the fate of her brother, who may, or may not, have died in the grim embrace of the Temple prison. But this does not quell the demands of her conscience nor her the longings of her heart. She is racked by doubt and never abandons her quest for her lost brother.
We see Thérèse from the inside, and also as her contemporaries perceived her: a handsome, majestic woman, but also one whose demeanor is outwardly aloof, whose voice is hoarse and croaky, maybe from her long silence during her years at the Temple.
Some passages in the novel make an unforgettable impression, in particular Thérèse’s meeting with Jeanne Simon, the widow of the cobbler Simon, who had been appointed “tutor” to Louis XVII at the Temple. One could have expected a hateful description of the old lady, but Vidal, in addition to doing impeccable research, never lets us forget that revolutionaries too are human. In Mère Simon, she shows us an outwardly harsh, but uncannily perceptive woman. She and Thérèse, across the chasm that sets them apart, are united by their love of the lost child.
There are other highlights, in particular Thérèse’s almost nightmarish return to Versailles after the Restoration, when she finds the ghosts of her loved ones haunting the gilded palace of her childhood.
The novel is a work of utmost subtlety, a quality that is nowhere more apparent than in the evocation of Thérèse’s union to her cousin, the Duc d’Angoulême, heir to the throne. Like every marriage, this one is a mystery to outsiders, but we feel Thérèse’s ongoing struggle to breathe life and love into it. Readers looking for romance or lurid bedroom scenes will be disappointed, but I found the complexity of the couple’s relationship entrancing.
“The heart of the novel is the mystery of suffering; not the dramatic agony of martyrdom and death, but the long travail of years amid duties and disappointments, the suffering of living,” writes Elena Maria Vidal. There is no better description of the book.(less)
I wish I had more than 5 stars to give to this wonderful historical mystery.
When Judge Dee, on horseback, tired and soaked through, arrives at Rivert...moreI wish I had more than 5 stars to give to this wonderful historical mystery.
When Judge Dee, on horseback, tired and soaked through, arrives at Riverton one rainy evening, he has to rub his eyes, for he believes for a moment that he has run into his double. But no, he is only looking at a harmless old hermit, riding a donkey. Blame it on the dusk.
What else does a mystery lover need? A beautiful princess in distress, the Emperor's guilty secret, youthful love, court intrigue, mobsters, gruesome murders, and water, water everywhere: the rain, the river, the canals that run through the summer palace, the malodorous moats that surround it.
And what about the hermit? Oh, he was the mystery, and the solution to the mystery. He was no one really...