Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee

Title: The Scandal of the Season
Author: Sophie Gee
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Published: 2007
Pages: 368

Rating: 3 out of 10

Lately, quite a few fluffy pieces of historical drivel have been making their way onto my reading lists. It is all due to my well meaning decision to stop judging books by their covers so strictly. This one is unfortunately the latest addition to my accidental and lamentable trend.

It is a "story behind the story" type of book, based on events that supposedly inspire the poet Alexander Pope to write The Rape of the Lock. Here, Alexander is still a struggling writer searching for literary recognition in 1700's London, and longing after the love of his childhood friend Teresa. The future subject of his famous poem is to be Arabella Fermor, a young and stunningly gorgeous debutante. Arabella finds herself drawn to Robert, a rakish man who she knows she would do well to avoid. The two begin a scandalous affair.

What a mess this book was, from start to finish. It was exasperating and annoying. The moment I finished it, I slammed it down onto my 'discard' pile with a smack.

There was not a single character that I ever even mildly liked or wanted to hear more about. Alexander was insufferable, and whenever I glimpsed his name appearing frequently on the pages ahead, I groaned and thought to myself 'please no, please no...' He was a show off and a know it all, very sure of himself in a grating sort of way. Every character in this book seemed to always be trying so desperately to be sharp and witty, Alexander most of all. Rather than dazzle me with his wit, Alexander only inspired utter contempt from me. I hope that this doesn't cloud my opinions when I read some of the real Pope's work one day.

The real main character, Arabella, seemed intriguing at first, when she was still off scene somewhere, but once we get to her part of the story, she quickly loses all this. She is described as "the beauty of her age," and everyone seems captivated by her looks. Few paragraphs were allowed to pass by without the reader being reminded of how gorgeous Arabella is. This pretty much always annoys me, but of course it is possible for a girl to be stunningly beautiful. However, it was also convenient to the plot for her to be viewed as undesirable for not having a huge fortune. There is also a big to-do over her love interest, Robert, probably not being interested. Of course he won't be, he would never be interested in her, the most beautiful girl in London. I mean, who would be? And the author is always woefully pointing out to us that no one really wants Arabella. Why? She's so beautiful it's intimidating. Oh, I see, what a common problem... It seemed like the author wanted both - the ultimate desirable goddess, and the poor reject - in one character. It seemed conflicting to me and didn't work one bit.

The romance story here fell flat. This is probably because it wasn't really a romance plot at all, just sex. I found it annoying that Robert is portrayed as such a gentlemanly hero, when really he is just getting free sex from (in case you forgot) "the most beautiful girl in London."
I also found in annoying and unlikely that Arabella would so willingly and lightly give up her virginity, and thus her entire reputation, on this fling. Even if she had been so carried away by her passions, surely it would have been a bit more difficult for her to sneak out and meet Robert. But she never appears to come across any problems there. At one point she even just shows up randomly at his house in the middle of the night.

All of the parties that took up so much of the book were dull. It was all just a lot of "and she wore this, and he danced with this girl, and that girl said this, and guess which famous author was there...?!" It sounded like a gossip column at times, except about boring people I didn't care about.

The author often switches from character to character, taking us into Alexander's perspective and then to Robert's, who leads us to Arabella's words, and other such arrangements. It would be convenient, except that she was incapable of pulling it off.

Something that especially annoyed me was how Gee made all of her characters try so hard to be sharp and witty. Subtlety is the key to a good, hilarious satire - but Gee instead feels the need to throw satire at us for pages and pages. I just wanted to snap the book shut and read a real satire before my mind was contaminated by faux-satire overload. The characters are always referencing how witty they all are, and Gee is constantly describing her character's personalities or conversations with that very same (overused) word, but I never see any evidence of this. All I saw were stupid people who talk in the most forced, stilted conversation I have ever heard of, and then try to pass it all off as brilliance just by calling it so.

Well, I suppose that by the time anyone has finished reading this they will have assumed that I didn't like it one bit. Normally I try to find at least something I like about a book, but I honestly couldn't come up with anything here.