Thursday, September 06, 2007
A Great and Terrible Beauty (first R.I.P & Unread Authors)
Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty. It is 1895, and sixteen-year-old Gemma Doyle is in that awful adolescent stage that often leads to great conflict between mother and daughter. Gemma wants to go to London and escape the boredom of India, but her mother refuses to give her permission. Gemma reacts with teenage pettiness, behaves badly, argues with her mother, and then runs off into the crowded streets of the Bombay marketplace.
Lost and frightened, Gemma has a vision in which she witnesses the deaths of her mother and the Indian man who minutes earlier had approached them and said, "Circe is near."
Two months later, we find Gemma in London, but under the heavy circumstances of her mother's death and her father's decline. Her brother is escorting her to Spence, a girl's finishing school, where Gemma will learn the art of finding a husband.
The tale is full of Gothic elements: the supernatural, an old building (in this case, not a castle, but a large school with one wing locked because of fire damage), omens, portents, mystery, suspense, females somewhat at the mercy of a male dominated society. But it is an updated Gothic, a kind of contemporary Gothic.
While the novel is set in 1895, many elements are anachronistic. Gemma is a much more modern female in both attitude and language than would have been the norm in the late Victorian period; she is independent, stubborn, and has a satiric bent that is modern in its realization. Her voice, especially at the first of the novel, is distinct, and I could easily identify with some of her withering assessments of the school and the girls. She is no mild-mannered, withdrawn, self-effacing Jane Eyre. She immediately goes into battle mode as she tries to win herself a place in the school's social hierarchy.
My favorite part was the first half of the novel where Gemma takes on the school clique; entertaining and humorous encounters because of Gemma's own attitude. The main characters all have their secrets and, regardless of how their lives may appear, their own wounds.
The sequel is Rebel Angels and yes, I'll be looking for this as soon as I can get some of my stack of books squared away.
Fiction. Gothic and YA. Delacorte Press. 2003. 403 pages.