Lauren's Reviews > Green Darkness

Green Darkness by Anya Seton
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's review
Mar 10, 2010

really liked it
Read from March 05 to 10, 2010

The storyline and narrative structure of Green Darkness are very different from other books I have read. Green Darkness starts out in 1968 with a house party. The hosts, Sir Richard and Lady Celia Marsdon are newlyweds but their relationship is anything but blissful, as Richard has turned cold towards his new wife in recent months. Several strange events lead Celia to enter into a catatonic state. One of the guests, an Indian doctor, realizes that Celia and Richard had known each other in a past life and the only way to rescue Celia is to revisit that past life so that she can resolve old conflicts.

The novel then turns to Tudor times, beginning with the reign of Edward VI and ending with the early part of Elizabeth I's reign. It explores the forbidden relationship of the orphaned Celia de Bohun and the Monk, Brother Stephen Marsdon against a backdrop of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as well as strict Tudor social mores. Romance readers might complain that the romantic moments between Celia and Stephen are few and far between. However, in the context of a forbidden relationship in the 16th century, I don't think the scarcity of romantic encounters is all that surprising. I think a lesser writer would have given them a torrid affair lasting years, but Seton created a relationship that bordered on obsession, with Celia's unwillingness to control her longing for Steven, the one man she really couldn't (or shouldn't) have. For much of the novel, the relationship is a backdrop and drives key events in Celia's life. Towards the end of the Tudor section, Celia's recklessness in pursuing her relationship with Stephen leads to tragedy and torment for both herself and Stephen, which causes the unhappiness of the modern Celia and Richard. After the tragic ending of the Tudor story (which is well-foreshadowed in the first part of the book), the novel returns to 1968 and the conflict between the modern Richard and Celia is neatly resolved.

It took me a while to sink into the novel. I would give the first portion of the book only 2 or 2.5 stars. The Tudor section, however, is fantastic. I felt that in the Tudor part of the book, Seton found her comfort zone as a writer of historical fiction. The action moved swiftly, the historical settings were well created, the characters believable and human, each with real flaws. I would give that section (the bulk of the novel) 5 stars. The return to the present - the last 40 or so pages of the novel - felt like an after thought and in my mind, the story I cared about already ended with the section on the Tudor period.

I think I would have liked the novel better without the element of reincarnation. At least for me, I couldn't really develop an attachment to the modern characters and I really didn't care what happened to them. On the other hand, Green Darkness would have been less unique and perhaps less memorable - perhaps like a Tudor version of The Thorn Birds. Perhaps the novel would have been more effective had the first 1968 section been shorter and the medical crisis situation cut out - maybe having Celia revisit her past through hypnotherapy? - with brief interludes cutting into the Tudor period to remind the readers about the modern cast of characters and reinforce the reincarnation element. Although Seton does cut into the Tudor element by giving Celia de Bohun visions into her future self 400 years later, those brief reminders don't really enhance the broader plot.

All in all, Green Darkness as a whole might be my least favorite Anya Seton novel (I've also read Avalon, Katherine, and The Winthrop Woman). However, the Tudor portion of the novel was very good, and that section alone was nearly as enjoyable to me as Katherine.
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Reading Progress

03/07/2010 page 280
47.38% "Started off rocky for me(didn't care for the first 100 pages) but I am enjoying the novel a lot now that the action is in the 16th Century." 1 comment
03/08/2010 page 386
65.31% "Seton's portrayal of 16th century religious conflict is top notch. I'm still waiting for the foreshadowed "horror" in Celia's past life."

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Misfit I feel the same way, loved the Tudor bits but not the *present day* story. Seton has another regression book Smouldering Fires, but it was so dated that I couldn't finish it.

Tracey Yes, the Tudor parts were definitely my favorites also

Lauren This is a SPOILER comment and not in the main review...but it was physically impossible for Celia to have a positive pregnancy test at the end of the book. According to the timeline, only 1 week passed between the house party and Celia's return home. Based on the story, Celia and Richard hadn't done the deed in several months due to Richard's distance and coldness. The earliest an HCG test should come up postive - even a blood test - is around 10 days after ovulation, as that's about when implantation occurs. before implantation, there's no HCG. Seven days is definitely too early.

This bit of medical misinformation has been annoying me. ;)

Tracey Nice find.

Beverly Diehl Lauren, I always interpreted that as that somehow, Stephen and Celia's baby was somehow transferred into (then) modern-day Celia, as she relived that part of her life.

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