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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 She is no mild-mannered, withdrawn, self-effacing Jane Eyre.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.
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I'm so very very behind. I should've read this book ages ago, but somehow it got lost in the fray. I've even read (and enjoyed) Bray's blog. Must get on this one ASAP (famous last words).ReplyDelete
Book three in this trilogy comes out in December, I am very excited! You sort of timed it well, you don't have as long to wait. :)ReplyDelete
Oh, this was so good wasn't it! You're going to love Rebel Angels ... even more secrets!ReplyDelete
I've never heard of this one, but your review is wonderful and it sounds like such a great book! I'm just about finished Dracula and I'm loving this gothic era of literature and really don't want to leave it. So even though this was published in 2003, it will be fun to go back to 1895 ;) Onto the wishlist!ReplyDelete
Can not wait for the third book!ReplyDelete
Someone recently asked me what the difference was in "historical" voice and "contemporary-historical" voice. I'm still working on an answer, but yeah--I think attitude and social mores have a lot to do with it.ReplyDelete
YA sure has changed, lol.
And yes, it is time for tea, with shortbread and Nutella.
Andi -- I'll have to check out Bray's blog. I really liked Bray's style in this novel! The first half was by far my favorite.ReplyDelete
Kailana -- I did time it well, didn't I? Especially since I hate waiting for sequels (George R. R. Martin kept me waiting for years!).
Nicola -- :)I was an entertaining read, and I'm glad that you liked Rebel Angels, too!
Chris -- Gothic can be such fun, can't it? We love the idea of the supernatural (as long as it stays in fiction). You'll like Gemma--she is such a combination of sass and insecurity.
Marg -- Another fan of the series! I'm late to this one, but will catch up.
Jodi -- YA has changed a lot!ReplyDelete
I like Gemma's contemporary attitude, while she never says, "Whatever!" she sometimes exudes that adolescent insouciance.
I'm SO glad to hear you liked this!! I broke down this week and went to Borders. I've been trying to be so good. I only bought 3 books, but this was one of them!! Man...this RIP challenge is going to be dangerous to my pocketbook!ReplyDelete
I was going to add his one to my list and even talked to my daughter about it. She hadn't read it yet and didn't know if it would be good, so I added one she recommended instead. It will be on my reading list for future reference, though. I may not get to it until after Jan so then my wait will not even be a wait for book 3. Every cloud has a silver lining.ReplyDelete
This one is good--and quite perfect for the RIP challenge--but I loved Rebel Angels even more. :) I can't wait for the third book to release.ReplyDelete
Stephanie -- Bray has a talent for involving the reader; I very much liked her style. There were a couple of things I could have done without, but I'm impressed with her ability to spin a yarn.ReplyDelete
Booklogged -- I remember you taking your daughter's recommendation; my daughters' recommendations have always been worthwhile. AGTB makes a great R.I.P. Read, but I'm eager to hear about Singer of All Songs, too.
Becky -- I'm so glad to know that most people liked Rebel Angels (and some, like you, preferred it!). One of the benefits of the blog world!
I love the sound of this book. There's a First in Series Challenge coming up that I may have to join just so I can add this one.ReplyDelete
framed -- I'm just planning to read as many books as possible that will fit into the R.I.P. challenge. I love this kind of book...scary, supernatural, mysterious.ReplyDelete
I have this in my stacks for the RIP II Challenge. Wonderful review! Now I'm anxious to get started on it. I've only had it for a year. ;)ReplyDelete
Les -- It is a great R.I.P read...and the promise of two more installments is something to look forward to.ReplyDelete
I have seen this book in many different bookstores but had no clue what it was all about and now, thanks to you I do! It sounds very interesting, I especially love the fact that Gemma ran away to my home city, Bombay!!!ReplyDelete
Lotus -- Gemma was part of the British colonial contingent in Bombay. Unfortunately, only the first little bit is in Bombay!ReplyDelete
Happy to hear that you enjoyed this book - this was actually the book that got me back into reading YA. :) The gothic feeling to it is really something, isn't it?ReplyDelete
Court -- I really enjoyed this one; Victorian, Gothic, fun.ReplyDelete
I brought this one home from the library and failed to get into it, but I think it was during one of my "grab me by page one or down you go" moments, so I'll give it a second try. Do you find you have trouble suspending your disbelief when the historical voice of a female character is too contemporary (rebellious, determined, etc.)? I have trouble with that. It wouldn't make for very good storytelling to have every heroine give in to her times, though, so I have to tell my inner critic to just shush.ReplyDelete