Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Laura Joh Rowland, BEDLAM: THE FURTHER SECRET ADVENTURES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
I'm sorry to say I would not recommend. The premise is fun: the novelist Charlotte Bronte's secret life as an adventuress/secret agent, saving the royal family of England, dashing around the countryside in hot air balloons. While Rowland is very good at period detail--she includes a great deal of interesting information on Victorian England, from Whitechapel to broughams--the plot and narration is clumsy, and the psychology fails for me. For example, on a visit to Bedlam with her publisher, to gain information for her next novel, Charlotte just happens to see a man being brutally tortured with electric probes by a vicious looking Russian--and that man being tortured is John Slade, with whom she has been desperately in love with for three years, though she has had no word and has been terribly worried about him. !!! Goodness, shouldn't she do something? And she does. She and her publisher immediately go off to view the Great Exhibition (of 1851) at the Crystal Palace. Her comment: "I was so impressed by the Crystal Palace that I almost forgot about Slade." My heart is hammering with worry about the poor man, and she's going to the Exhibition? And then, because the most interesting part of the story belongs to John Slade (who dashes between England and Russia, playing double agent, with three different names) she is forced to resort to this sort of maneuver: "Here I must describe other events that occurred outside my view. The details, based on facts I later learned, are as accurate as I can make them. Reader, you will see ... I was in grave danger." For those of us who know and love JANE EYRE, the phrase "Reader, I married him" is etched in our brains, and the apostrophe was used to wonderful effect. Rowland uses it when she wants to remind us that this is Charlotte Bronte's voice. It didn't quite work for me.