Book review: Claire’s Not-So-Gothic Romance by Bonnie Blythe (Amazon Kindle, 2010)
Claire Parnell, plain, repressed, and broke, falls desperately in love with Sam Murray, the sought-after new guy in town, and must overcome her scheming mother, a badly decorated red room, the enticements of the flesh (albeit scrawny), and Sam’s unsavory past, to claim the same hard-fought happiness as her favorite literary heroine … Jane Eyre.
Never one to miss an opportunity to read a Jane Eyre derivative, here’s the latest one I finished. And I have to say … it should come with a warning label. (Which it would have done if I had read which Kindle Store category this was in. It’s Christian fiction. Mea culpa.) It doesn’t contain smutty sex scenes, but it does bludgeon you with religion in a way that surpasses Chocolate Roses. Where aforementioned Mormonised version spoke about going to church and took delight in converting a character, it never went so far as feeling quite as preachy as this.
We’ll get back to that.
Claire’s Not-So-Gothic Romance is about Claire, an American woman in her mid-20s who loves reading Jane Eyre and lives with her chef mum and works in a florist shop. Her mum’s biggest concern is to get her daughter married off to a doctor, because a doctor will be rich and therefore provide for her. When Claire ends up in hospital after an accident, her drug-addled brain makes her kiss the first doctor she sees. And is then suitably mortified when she realises what she’s done. (Not to mention he turns out to be a simple nurse, oh the humanity!) It doesn’t get better when the same guy shows up at her local church and starts showing an interest in her …
This review contains a few spoilers. But you know, each to their own.
There are many things that could be said about this novel. Its light-hearted, chatty tone was charming yet got a bit grating after a while, when I wanted Claire to waffle slightly less and get to the point a bit more. Then again, there’s that saying about stones and the throwing thereof and glass houses, so I shouldn’t hold that against it.
A bigger gripe was the editing. Tenses are one of the most difficult things to keep track of sometimes, I find. I find it more difficult if I’m trying to write present tense, because them pesky past tenses weasel themselves in there, like they have in this novel. For example (my emphases):
Music floats out on the air from bars and restaurants we passed. (p. 108)
Sam presses his hand against the small of my back as we walked down the church aisle. (p. 116)
As we settled into a pew, I steal a look at him, (p. 117)
I pushed against his chest, trying not to laugh out loud. When he eases off me and sees my expression, he glances toward the door. (p. 138)
Sam laughs, then his gaze became serious. (p. 143)
Please note that there were others – these are only the ones I happened to highlight. What the author should have done is to proof-read the novel at least once before making it available to the general public. Sentences like those above should have been spotted and changed before publication, as are some other examples that I’ve highlighted below.
It detracts from enjoyment. That Claire isn’t the brightest of the bunch is one thing, but that she is nauseatingly oblivious to the fact that a good-looking man can and indeed actually is interested in her makes for some seriously frustrating reading. She’s too neurotic, to the point where her hippie style airy-fairy mum seems to be the normal one. Quite an achievement! (Aww, Claire’s mum is great. Don’t quite see the big obsession with doctors, but y’know …)
Claire’s room is red, and she even refers to it as “the red room” once, but seems to miss to make a connection to the red room in Jane Eyre. She doesn’t have the money to redecorate it either, into something less of an eyesore than bright red. Seriously, a decent-sized bucket of paint is like, what, £15 at Wilkos? You can do wonders with some paint – you don’t have to actually rip the room out and have it re-plastered, for goodness sake. Do a little bit here and a little bit there, and you’ll have a nicely re-decorated room eventually. But realism wouldn’t make for a dramatic turning point for a novel, would it?
My biggest gripe was the lack of Jane Eyre – there are references here and there, but while Claire is plain, she’s no Jane, and Sam is certainly no Mr Rochester. In fact, he doesn’t even have a secret. It’s built up that he has this incredibly sinful past, but it all basically boils down to the fact that he has had the audacity to have had pre-marital sex. With several people. OMG the horror, you know? Sam’s a born again Christian who doesn’t have the decency to be a prick who before turning into Mr Wonderful, he’s Mr Wonderful right from the off. So not Rochester.
In fact, Sam can’t even do bigamy properly. Is he secretly married? No. He has an ex fiancée that shows up near the end, who turns out to be a bit of a nutjob, but they were never married, and they broke off the engagement. And this woman shows up, claiming to be pregnant, and even when Sam swears that the child isn’t his, and gives very believable reasons as to why it can’t be, Claire just goes, “OH NOES YOU HAVE TO GO TO HER AND MARRY HER AND BE THAT BABY’S FATHER NOW, WOE IS ME.”
She’s willing to chuck away her fiancée instead of taking his word that there is no way he can be the father, and in fact, that the would-be mother faked a pregnancy once before just to get him to marry her, because, like I pointed out previously, Sam is Mr Wonderful who would do the right thing. This doesn’t ring warning bells that maybe she should listen to Sam and not his suddenly appearing psycho ex? IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. Morality is one thing, being stupid quite another. Also, this isn’t the dark ages. If the child was indeed his – a DNA test would have provided conclusive evidence – there’s nothing stopping him from providing the mother with financial support (“the right thing to do”) and still marry the love of his life (Claire), seeing as how the mother and Sam had split up and he came to realise he didn’t even like her as a person and wouldn’t want to marry her just because there would now be a child in the picture.
If by now you’re thinking the crazy ex is faking this pregnancy too, you’re right. It’s a pillow. Because, uh, pillows fastened under clothes with belts look a lot like pregnant women’s bulging bellies. And they feel the same and everything. Yeahhhh right. A simple “ooh, can I feel it?” would have given the game away. “I can’t feel the baby kicking … but wow, it’s really comfortable to rest your head on! Is this foam or feather?”
So no, I’m not very impressed. And I haven’t even come to the part of the review where I point out it feels as if the author is trying to convince me Christianity rocks and I should look within my own heart and find Jesus there. There was a lot of that, conversion stories and everything. Very nice, I wanted to don a cardigan straight away and repent for my sins. Bah. I suppose if I had actually looked at its categorisation on Amazon before reading, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise (Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Evangelism), but alas, I rarely look at the categories, and this was only bought because BrontëBlog referenced another blog’s interview with the author, making it sound like a re-telling of Jane Eyre. Which it isn’t?
Chick lit it may be, but it’s not a re-telling of Jane Eyre, because for that you need to at least parallel the plots, and this doesn’t. Unless you count fake-pregnant crazy ex fiancée, which I don’t. She’s an ex, not a wife, that doesn’t stand in the way of Sam and Claire’s happiness – not really – and she’s not even locked away anywhere.
Apparently, I made 32 highlights and notes while reading. Here’s a selection:
There were so many references to branded drugs (Demerol and Tylenol in particular) that I wondered if Blythe had secured herself a sponsorship deal. There were other occasions where she opted for a brand, such as “Flojos flip-flops”. Wasn’t “flip-flops” descriptive enough? Do we need to know he slowed the “Pathfinder to a stop”, rather than his, oh I dunno, “car”? Product placement, gotta love it. Or not.
A British neighbour asks if she’d like “a dish of tea”. Dish? I’m foreign and even I know the Brits love their tea in a cup. Maybe the old neighbour is old enough to actually drink from the saucer rather than the cup, but there’s nothing else to suggest that to be the case?
The phrase “verklempt buttah” sounds like it’s a Jewish expression. The “heroine” has Christianism coming out of her freakin’ nose. Is she of German descent or something?
He laughs. “Well, my uncle kind of bullied me into it, but after taking a look at the scriptures from the Bible he showed me and talking to the pastor at the church, I became persuaded in my own mind.”
It’s been a harried hour, trying not to Make A Scene at each cutting remark issuing forth from Sophia’s glossy pink lips, and I’m exhausted. I can barely stand to look at her. She was rude not just to me, but to Barb as well, which just isn’t fair.
Err, what? Who’s Barb and what happened exactly? This is all we get, and there’s no explaining anything.
“I’ve wondered about that myself, you know, the aggression, even sometimes desperation that Christians can show – me included.” I let out a sigh. “Maybe it has something to do with trying to carry out what’s right. /…/”
So by this statement, non-Christians can’t show aggression or desperation, and they’re the only ones who are trying to do what’s right. Yeah, that’s not offensive at all, is it?
Goths, at least in my experience, are usually quiet, socially shy, artistic people who are into literature and darkness and like to wear black. But I think they’re just really romantics at heart.
Way to go. Sure, she’s painting Goths with a way better brush than “THEY’RE ALL SATANISTS!!” but the Goths I know don’t strike me as socially shy, and they’re not particularly quiet either. Not all of them are into literature either, as far as I know.
“I’m not as unsullied as, say, a Gothic heroine?”
I lower my gaze to hide my distress. What can I say? Deep in my heart, I know it grieves me on some level. I look up at him and see how much my answer means to him. “I see you as God sees you,” I say softly. “‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.'”.
Yeah, that he has had sex with women before marriage is obviously about as big a problem as if he had a fetish for kicking puppies or something. But you know, Jesus loves a sinner.
My heart knocks under the floorboard of my ribs in time with my knuckles on the door.
Classic. But not as classic as “Turret’s Syndrome” (p. 175), which I’m guessing is something that makes you build castles and take to archery.
“I was so jealous that I threw up.”
Uh … I would do anything for love, but I wouldn’t do THAT? Throw up because you’re jealous? Honestly?! Who does that?
“I know you’ve been encouraging us to apply scripture to our lives, especially in trying to find a marriage partner, but I didn’t listen. I want to, now. Don’t give up on us, okay?”
It’s an anachronism I’m familiar with, and it stands for What Would Jesus Do?
“Do you know what it means?” he asks, his soulful eyes alight.
OH MY GOODNESS, I’VE JUST BEEN OVERWHELMED WITH THE LOVE OF OUR LORD! 🙄
So no, not impressed. Too Jesus-heavy for my liking. Now, I don’t mind people being into the whole religion thing, but start ramming it down my throat and I will kick off. Also, the book hasn’t even been properly edited. Kind of like my reviews, but at least you don’t pay for those.
1.8 out of 5 churchy singles picnics.
Claire’s Not-So-Gothic Romance is potentially still available in printed form, but otherwise, you’re looking at a Kindle edition only.