For my 2017 Reading Challenge, #31 was a book about an interesting woman. I couldn’t choose between The Vatican Princess (about Lucrezia Borgia) and The Dream Lover (about George Sand). Good thing I had a backup, because I couldn’t finish one of them.
The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
This is not a historical novel. It is rapey romance with a Renaissance setting.
“And then the truth washed over me like a freezing wave from the ocean pounding ceaselessly against the cliff atop which I stood, my finely embroidered satin slippers no protection against the bitter cold. What I had come into with hope, with belief in the promise of history given life, was nothing but a lie. Like a fool, I had accepted the promise of beauty and truth, something I could hold close to my heaving bosom forever; only now did I see I had been fooled by tawdriness and depravity, brass masquerading as gold. I should have known, the first time desire washed over me as he sneered at me with sordid intimacy, * that my happiness was of no consequence when this match was made for me, that my only value was as that of gold in a purse. What I had hoped would be a mutual communion was not tender at all but merely cavalier. My silken tresses tumbled about my creamy shoulders as I stamped my foot and shook with sobs, knowing that no matter how much I resisted, I was doomed to submit to a malevolent lust.”
And so on, ad nauseum. Fuck you, book.
New things, entirely unsatisfactory: The book tells of the bishop slipping “twin gold bands onto the index and fourth fingers of our left hands” during a wedding ceremony. All I can find about wedding rings and index fingers relates to Jewish marriage ceremonies (the Borgias were obviously Catholic) and the right hand, not the left. This is the kind of thing I like to learn about in historical fiction, but no. All get is sweetmeats and codpieces.
*Okay, I made all of this up, except that a man actually did “sneer with sordid intimacy.” That was when I threw the book across the room.
Bookshelves: bloody-awful, historical-fiction, rapey-romance, purple-prose, ugh, abandoned, dnf, renaissance
The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I found exactly one heaving bosom and exactly one instance of hair tumbling around shoulders, and they never belonged to the first-person narrator. This is more like it.
George Sand’s life is what makes so many of us want to be starving artists in Paris garrets. This is what romance is!
I had known very little about George Sand. Like, basically, “Did you know the writer George Sand was really a woman?” That was what I knew, and I surmised the male pen name was taken because female artists in the nineteenth century were dismissed as dilettantes if they were given any attention at all. That much was correct, and I learned a lot more. George Sand, or Aurore Dupin as she was born, was a woman who sought love — a deep, soaring, spiritual kind of love — and broke with pretty much every convention there was in her search for it. In the story, she first dressed as a man to get cheaper tickets for the plays she reviewed for Le Figaro (that Pink Tax has been around a long time), and kept it up because it was simpler, less expensive, and she liked the way the world treated her when it assumed she was male. This is a woman who, in the nineteenth century, refused to accept the proper lady’s lot of approving menus and sewing, and who broke away to have it all: The writing that was as natural and necessary to her as breathing, love in all its expressions, passion, art, motherhood, nature, friendship, any lover she decided to take, and the freedom to be all the things she was without a husband who was, basically, a real drag. And cigars, too.
This book is brimming over with history, place, passion, and sentiment, but without the purple prose that turns so much historical fiction into drivelly, rapey romance. Thank you, Elizabeth Berg.
Bookshelves: fictionalized-biography, chick-lit, historical-fiction, defying-gender-roles, feminism, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, reading-challenge, love-story-not-a-romance, women
Join me on Goodreads here: View all my reviews