by Victoria Holt
As long as she can remember, the exquisite Lenore Cleremont has lived at The Silk House, the luxurious English country estate of the wealthy Sallonger family. Neither a slave nor a servant, she has grown into a young woman who has shown promise as a dress designer. But she has also won the heart of the two charismatic Sallonger sons. Then tragedy strikes. And Lenore finds herself playing a central role in a drama that threatens to destroy everything she holds dear...
This was my first experience reading Victoria Holt. Growing up, I somehow got the impression that her novels fell into the category of "trashy romance"-- but then I saw her listed with other "gothic romance" authors I enjoy, so it seemed worth a try. My verdict, based on this one book, is that it's definitely not "trashy" romance. Most of the time, innuendo is as far as things go. There's one scene that may shock some readers-- but in general, very little happens "on screen".
That said, I wasn't especially impressed. I'll read some reviews and try to determine whether this book is representative of the bulk of her work before I decide if I'll try another, at some point. I wish I'd liked it better, because Holt was such a prolific author; this could've added dozens of books to my "Sounds Interesting" list.
It's not that the book was bad... (Here we go again! It's my standard damning with faint praise...) It was readable, but aside from a few parts, it wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. Very predictable, with weak "mysteries" dragged out over the whole book. A couple of times, characters made annoying and illogical choices that just don't make sense. As a whole, it was fairly bland and repetitive. The book felt long, and that's the sign of either a bad book or (at least) a bad pairing of book and reader. I suspect that Victoria Holt simply may not be for me.
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
-- I can never decide whether or not I like Lenore! I think I liked her in the beginning, but once she became an adult, I was ambivalent. Well, it's often tiresome when a heroine has every man lusting after her...
-- As if it wasn't predictable enough when something big was going to happen, the narrator frequently felt the need to "warn" the reader. "Little did I dream that my happiness was soon to come to an end" kind of thing. (Not a direct quote, but you get the point.)
-- Oh boy. One of Lenore's suitors has a career in politics. *YAWN* "At a by-election I recently became Member of Parliament for Swaddingham," he tells her. She responds, "How interesting." Ha ha ha. Yeah, it's so interesting. Lenore actually does find it interesting, as we are told again and again. A life as a politician (or politician's wife)? Oh, that sounds so "interesting"! We're supposed to believe that Lenore takes an interest in Drake's conversation of politics, but she rarely has anything more to say about it than that it's "interesting" or "fascinating". *eyeroll* She doesn't seem to know any more about politics than Julia, who very obviously pretends to find it "interesting" in a bid to ensnare Drake in her charms.
-- "'This happy pair will soon be going off to their honeymoon in Florence. Why does everyone go to Italy for their honeymoon?'" Well, I kind of agree with Julia on this one. I guess Florence was a popular place at the time for honeymooning. I'm sure it has its attractions, but it does seem dull and unimaginative to go where everyone else (of a certain station) goes for a honeymoon...
-- Katie comments that someone they've met in a park (who turns out to be her French grandfather, of course) talks "funny". Lenore replies that "that was because he was a foreigner". Only... Katie's great-grandmother lives with them, and she has the same French accent. It seems unlikely that such a child would say that a Frenchman "talked funny". Wouldn't she comment instead on the fact that he sounds like her great-grandmother? A little thing, but it irritated me. (Maybe I was just in a grumpy mood that night. (g))
-- "That was such a happy morning." ...And so we the readers prepare for more trouble!
-- So, Lenore's wealthy, successful father who abandoned her mother (who died in childbirth) and never made an effort to find his orphaned child until now, when she's a widow with a child of her own, offers to assist her with the financial aspect of opening a Paris branch of her salon. Lenore's first response is to look at him "in astonishment". No! What a startling idea! Whoever could have predicted such a thing?! She then has to be talked (and talked, and guilt-tripped) into accepting his help, even though she is now on friendly terms with him. Because Lenore is a saint or something. I don't know. What I do know is that she's getting on my nerves.
-- Ok, here's one of those irritating, irrational decisions. Drake cares for Lenore and has every reason to suppose that she returns his affection. Then Julia hints/lies that Lenore's mysterious French benefactor (i.e. her long-lost father) is some sort of lover, and that she's fooling around with him in exchange for his investment in the Paris salon. And so this supposedly calm, intelligent, level-headed man is so distraught that he dines with Julia and allows himself to become so drunk that he wakes up in her bed (after which she of course pretends she's pregnant to force him into marriage). Yes, that makes sense. It wouldn't be more normal for him to ask Lenore what's going on-- or ask anyone other than Julia, who has blatantly butted in multiple times during his courtship of Lenore.
-- What purpose did the Aldringham ghost serve? It was patently obvious that Julia was behind her convenient "appearance", so it lent no spookiness. Are we supposed to believe that that is why Drake decided to put off his proposal? He never mentions it as a motivating factor... It seems fairly pointless.
-- If it weren't for that whole mess with Julia, I'd infinitely prefer Drake to the Compte. I mean, yes, he's a politician, but no-one's perfect... ;o) I was disappointed by that twist in the plot. ...Also by the existence of Katie, since she seemed to add so little to the story, imho. I don't love romances in which the heroine (or hero, for that matter) has a child.
-- Speaking of Katie, we're told that she's an observant, intelligent child, but I don't see it. I recall being eleven (Katie's age toward the end of the book), and some of the things she says don't ring true for a bright child of that age.
For instance, after joking with the Compte about his being a giant or an ogre or a cannibal, Katie is discussing him with Lenore: "'He's not a giant,' said Katie. 'But he's better than a giant. He makes me laugh. I like him, don't you, Mama?' I was silent. She looked disappointed. 'He doesn't really eat people. That was only a joke.'"
Then later on, Katie tells the Countess about the oubliette in the castle, and the Countess jokingly wishes that the salon had one so that she could lock away a particularly difficult customer. Katie very helpfully explains, "If you leave them there they will die." ...Um, yep. Very astute, Katie.
After Julia makes her absurd drunken scene at her party, "Katie was too observant not to have noticed that something was wrong. 'What did Aunt Julia do?' she asked. I pretended to look puzzled. 'It was something,' she went on. 'People's mouths go straight when they talk about it as though they think it was wrong and are rather pleased about it.'" ...Their mouths go straight? *eyeroll*
I think the problem is that Holt wanted to make Katie adorable, but eleven-year-olds just don't say things like that, and I doubt that eleven-year-olds of the past did, either. Possibly Holt hadn't spent much time around children, when she wrote this novel. (And had forgotten what it was like to be eleven, too, apparently.)
-- Some of the descriptions of the Compte ("ironic, amused and sardonic eyes", "dark, rather saturnine good looks") make me think he was meant to be a version of Mr. Rochester. ...However, there is no comparison.
-- Oh my gosh! The repetition! Ugh. I hate repetition. If the story's very complicated-- if it's been twenty long chapters since something happened-- ok, maybe you need to remind us of it. But it should be done as lightly and elegantly as possible, not just repeated almost word-for-word. And no offense, but this book was not that convoluted. It's pretty obvious what's going on-- not that much to sidetrack you. It was not necessary to repeat parts of it again and again.
-- At one point late in the book, Lenore tell us that she "did not trust Charles. There were secrets in his eyes. I knew that he would have no compunction in destroying me." Well, duh! Have you met Charles before?! Oh, wait. That's right. You grew up in the same house with him. He tried to force unwanted attentions on you at that party, and when you refused him, he was so angry that he later locked you in a cold, scary mausoleum. Then he seemed like he was about to rape you on the spot where your husband (his brother) had died... Oh, and then there was the time that he tried to blackmail you into sleeping with him, threatening to destroy your reputation (and Drake's) and hurt your daughter with lies, if you refused. Yeah, it's certainly a new and frightening development that Charles (of all people) might stoop so low as to try to implicate you and Drake in the murder of his sister. *eyeroll-to-end-all-eyerolls*
-- Though I found most of the "mystery" elements of the book sadly lacking, I have to admit that I hadn't completely worked out the "main mystery". I knew that Charles had stolen the method for Sallon Silk. (Obviously.) I knew that someone had murdered Phillip. But I mistakenly suspected that Charles had had Phillip killed in order to prevent Phillip from revealing the theft (assuming he'd discovered it or was about to do so). Not quite right (as became clear when Lenore's uncle seemed so shocked to discover that it was not Phillip who had "invented" Sallon Silk).
-- The second character decision that makes no sense to me relates to that mystery. When it became obvious that one of the brothers had stolen the "formula" for Sallon Silk, why did the St. Allengdre family not pursue legal action against him-- Phillip, since that's who they suspected of the theft? Maybe it wouldn't be a simple thing to do, but why not try?! It was certainly worth the investment of time and money, since Sallon Silk was so revolutionary. If it (along with the seduction and suicide of Heloise) was worth murdering for, why would it not be worth legal action?
...Maybe that's the answer, right there. If they brought legal action, they couldn't as easily take blood revenge. The legal proceedings would reveal motive, and maybe people would think twice about Phillip's death... Anyway, it still strikes me as a very odd course of action to choose, even aside from the moral question.
--Well, that's it. I'll be interested to see how Victoria Holt fans rank this novel against the others. Is it worth trying another, at some point?
Edited to Add:
I've read a few reviews, now, and some even go so far as to say that this is one of her better books. Hm... Not encouraging.