Two Beach Novels: Good trash, Bad trash

Posted by Lou. The time is 1.25pm here in London, UK.

After seeking beach holiday book recommendations I ended up packing these two in alongside my trusty Michael Chabon: Nora Roberts' Black Rose, and Pauline Simons' The Bronze Horseman.

Black Rose came about through a bookworm friend recommending Nora Roberts as being "REAL trash" with "beautiful, independent, intelligent heroines who meet gorgeous, rich, sensitive, sexy men and either solve crimes or better their lives in some way, all the while having graphic-but-romantic mind-blowing sex". Yep, sounds perfect. And it was exactly that: a very quick, addictive read that was - to steal another of her descriptors - like eating candy.

This one features a woman Roz who has inherited her family's estate and - after the tragic death of her first husband - raised three sons whilst developing a thriving garden centre on the property to fund keeping the estate in the family. The other thing kept in the family is a ghost, a mystery woman who has haunted the house from the late-19th century, keeping a protective eye on the children and watching over the loves of the ladies. The plot of this book has Roz hire genealogist to find out who the ghost is and what has happened to her to cause her to haunt their estate. The genealogist, of course, happens to be gorgeous, lovely, intelligent, sweet, very into her, etc... yadda yadda yadda, sex, ghostly happenings, a bit of romance, a mystery solved. You get the picture.

The one disappointment was that it turns out this is the middle book of a trilogy, a fact I didn't notice when buying it and didn't notice when reading it until I got to the end... where the characters find out who the ghost is, but not how she died. Now, as the reader has known who the ghost is from the beginning, this is quite a let down as the suspense becomes wondering how she came to die on the estate, and what exactly her bloody end was (suicide? murder? if so, at who's hand?). It seems I have to read the next book - focussed on another of the women living on the estate - to find out the details of her end.

The Bronze Horseman was one I have known of for years and years (it features highly on the Whitcoulls Top 100, so was - I assumed - a pretty safe beach choice), so bought on a whim. The book begins with Germany invading the Soviet Union in WWII, and is primarily set during the siege of Leningrad, specifically focussed on a 17-y-o girl (Tania) who falls in love with a solider (Alexander), who turns out to be dating her sister (Dasha). Conditions deteriorate as the Germans attempt to starve the residents of Leningrad into submission, and it goes on from there.

One thing I did like about the book was its context - it says the author's grandparents lived through it, and you can tell that the conditions within the walls of the city during such a dark period is written from having heard real accounts of what it was like. The insight into life within a Bolshevik Soviet Union is also rather good. And that's about all I have to say that is positive about this novel. Because oh my fucking god do you just want to punch the characters - no, make that the author - in the face.

Firstly, their behaviours are fundamentally nonsensical, irrational and illogical. When Tania and Alexander meet he has seen her sister a total of three times. Why doesn't he just tell her he has feelings for Tania? Instead it has him continue to date Dasha while professing his love for Tania, even going so far as to having Dasha send Tania up onto their roof so that her and Alexander can have private sexy times. Aha, riiiight... Even though it attempts to provide a rationale for why he would do this and why she would put up with it, it really doesn't work. Throughout all 500-and-something pages they go back-and-forth with actions that are at odds to their feelings and words, and arguing the same things over and over and over. It's just blah.

Secondly, the author abhorrently portrays the appeal of Tania as being that she is an innocent virgin - and her sister is "one of those girls" (is that meant to make it okay for him to have sex with her whilst supposedly being in love with her sister?). This isn't done with some sort of critical or knowing nod to double-standards or a contemporary stand-point that says "this is the way it was", but rather just bad, offensive, useless writing. And of course when she has had sex with him, she becomes an ever-available, always-eager-to-please, sex-kitten. Fuck off. (Oh man, the loooong passages detailing sex are cringeful to read - managing to be prudish whilst trying to be graphic.) Basically, instead of creating a consistent personality and spunk for her protagonist, the writer has relied on pathetic ideals of femininity. I mean, of course it makes total sense that she would have not had sexual experiences and would be shy and he - a disillusioned solider who has seem some things (yawn) - may be attracted to that, but don't for one minute suggest that that is her appeal to the reader!

Yeah, so check out Nora Roberts if you're ever looking for some quick-reading, plot-driven, not-so-bad-you-lose-your-intelligence trash, but treat The Bronze Horseman like you would treat a crack den - just don't go there.

2 thoughts on “Two Beach Novels: Good trash, Bad trash”

  1. It's such a tricky job finding trash that isn't toooo trashy!

    I find the thing is that if you do strike upon something this is bearable, that it's best not to read too many in a go.
    I.E. when I first read Rachel's Holiday, I jumped straight into a couple of other Marian Keyes books right after - and found that very quickly it all got a bit formulaic and clich├ęd in no time..

  2. Completely agree - actually, that was a bit I left out of Mer's recommendation - she used the candy metaphor to mean that you can't stop eating it but then you feel a bit sick and need to stay away for a while.

    Last Chance Saloon, from memory, is also an ok one of Marion Keyes, btw. But then again, I read it first so maybe that's why it seemed ok (then I read Rachel's Holiday a loooong time later, having felt sick from the over-candying of a binge on her books).