Books I read this week: Vol 27, July 15

RR: Potent Pleasures

Author: Eloisa James

Series: Pleasures #1

Tags: Historical Romance, regency romance, ruined woman, artist, twin, white hair, Earl, divorced, masquerade, mistaken identity, impotence

Format: audiobook

Rating: yay!

 

This should really be called Not Actually Impotent Pleasures.

 

Our heroine meets the hero at a masquerade ball and accidentally has sex with him (woops! I slipped!). Years later, they meet again. He is called the Ineligible Earl because his wife annulled him on the grounds of impotence. Which is of course a falsehood; he just really needed to get out of that relationship. He starts courting her, and she is not really worried about the impotence thing, but mostly mad that he doesn't remember her.

All the while every person around them is like:

"Does his dick work?"

"It's a shame his dick doesn't work."

"Should we tell her? Does she know?? She probably doesn't know what it means when his dick doesn't work."

Hilarious euphemisms like "floppy poppy" are used.

 

It reminds me of that time in Downton Abbey when Matthew was handicapped from an accident and everyone would clap him on the back and ask,

"Soooo.... are you feeling... better?"

Meaning,

"So, does your dick work yet?"

 

Oh, primogeniture. Always making awkward British people talk about each other's dicks.

 

This was an accidental reread. I'm now up to J in Overdrive, so I came across Eloisa James again.

 

Now, I know that I told you, dear reader, that I broke up with James after that hellishly tedious Seven Minutes in Heaven. Buuuuut.... You know how I hate not to finish things. I thought maaybe if I avoided her Desperate Duchesses series (all 18 bajillion of them) then I would enjoy her again because I did like a few of her stories, mainly the fairy tale ones. I chose the Pleasures series.

I didn't realize that it was something I've read before until I got a couple chapters in, and by that time I was enjoying it. It was on the list of my Vaguely Remembered Romances ("what was that one about a twin... with black and white hair... and something about impotence?"), so I decided to stick through it.

 

I'm not exactly sure what irks me so much about Eloisa James, but in this one it was that all conflicts were run into the ground. So he said that he was impotent to get out of a marriage. So he didn't remember her from a bajillion years ago.

LET'S MOVE ON.

Charlotte, our heroine, was grasping at straws by the end. Does she really begrudge him for not recognizing her from seven years ago, when they shared a tryst in a dark garden, she had her hair powdered, and she was wearing a mask? And if she cared so much, why didn't she bring it up? I confess to tuning out towards the end, but I'm pretty sure, no I'm positive, that she never told him.

And the Garden Girl this, the Garden Girl that. That's all our hero wants to talk about. One night, and about .5 seconds in her veejay and suddenly she's The One That Got Away.

 

Meh.

I liked it, it was fun, if a bit tedious, again. At the beginning I was thinking about continuing the Pleasures series, even though it looks like I've read all those, too. By the end, I had changed my mind.

Moving on!

 

Oh, and fuck you, Duke of Villers. He wasn't in this one (thank the gods of romance novels), but I still fucking hate that guy.


 

Till We Have Faces

Author: C.S. Lewis

Series: N/A

Tags: classic literature, mythology, Christian, preachy

Format: first ebook, then paper book, then audiobook because I could just not deal with this thing

Rating: A long, cold cry of anguish in an empty, black, echoing chamber.

 

What the ever-loving fuck is this novel.

Just... what.

 

OMFG, this book felt like a slow walk through an increasingly worse nightmare. This was the book for my (IRL) book club and I have no idea why we chose it. Perhaps the thought was "Narnia! Talking lions! Jesus! Jesus is a nice fellow, right? Let's try Lewis's adult stuff."

 

Pain, misery, sadness, pettiness, cruelty, unloved, self-doubting, insane. Oh, and let's not forget patronizing, sexist, boring, tedious, and downright confusing.

 

This was clogging up my To Read pile because I put aside everything else to read this book, and yet still couldn't get myself to read it. I was, however, determined to finish it. You will not defeat me, cruel devil!

So you can thank this book for only having finished two books this week, and the vitriol that is about to spill forth.

Shall we begin?

 

The Myth

Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid (or Eros). Quick recap: Psyche is super hot. Cupid falls in love. He has sex with her in the dark. She is forbidden to see his face. She looks at him anyway (evil, petty, envious sisters convince her) while he is sleeping and is cursed. Venus (or Aphrodite) makes her go on all these impossible quests, and when she completes them all, she wins back Cupid and they get married. Hooray for them.

Lewis's story is told by the ugly sister, who tries to save her from what she believes is madness, fails, and then just does some stuff as a queen for a while. She writes the story, and has a bunch of theological epiphanies, dies and goes off to her friends like Rose and Jack at the end of Titanic.

 

It's amazing how fiction (a media completely made up in the mind) has the ability to ask the question, "is God real?" and then unequivocally answer, "actually, yes. Here he is."

Yep. That's proof right there. In fiction.

 

Orual

So, fun times ahead, if you are a woman, because 100% of every woman's worth is how pretty they are. Our narrator, Orual, is ugly. We don't know how or why. Possibly a disfigurement? We never know. Fun things happen like:

  • Her father hits her, calls her Goblin, forces her to look at herself in the mirror, praises her when she hides herself in a veil.
  • Her friend, protector, and unrequited love repeatedly tells her she would be a good wife if she wasn't so ugly, gives her her only solace by teaching her how to fight, and effectively desexing her.
  • Her older sister and nursemaid make fun of her.

When not abused, she is simply neglected, and develops an unhealthy attachment to her youngest sister and her Greek philosopher slave, both of which are so wrapped up in their own thoughts, they hardly think of her.

Her life is pretty much fucked from beginning to end. 

Lots of situations that just happen to be my personal nightmares become part of her life, such as:

  • Never being loved
  • Not being worthy of love
  • Being too ugly to love
  • Being too ugly to be a woman
  • Being desexed, neither man nor woman
  • Being without a family
  • Loving someone too hard, who does not love you back
  • Being loved as a Thing, an Idea, not a whole complete person, as I am
  • Friendships held back by some construct of who I am, be it appearance, gender, station, etc.
  • No true friendships
  • Seeing someone you love die
  • Seeing someone you love being torn apart with disease or mental illness
  • Abuse from a loved one
  • Having your worst fears realized with bald language
  • Loneliness.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Unrequited love
  • Facing the love of your unrequited love

Yep. That pretty much covers it. I mean, spiders don't scare me. If I were to have a bogart it would be the embodiment of the life of Orual.

I found it incredibly difficult to live in her narration, feel what she feels, and still continue to read. And yet, I think we were supposed to take it in stride?!? Were we not supposed to sympathize with her?? Because it just kept going and going, and each layer of debasement (desexing, always wearing a veil) was offered almost as a triumph.

I suppose she can count as an ironic character because though I wanted to sympathize with her, she was petty, selfish, and self-centered. When Psyche was in the throws of her delusion, all Orual could think of was, what about me? This wrongs me!

Not that Psyche is much of a peach either.

 

Psyche

Yep, more of that It Sucks to be a Woman crap.

Basically, their choices as women are to be married off for political reasons to a stranger, or to be useless burden for your family patriarch.

Pretty standard. But in watching their childhood, you realize what sort of dreams can these girls have? To marry someone not so abusive? To never marry at all?

That pretty much hangs over each sister's head while you learn about them and start to get a feel of their personalities.

I feel pretty confident in saying that all in Orual is mortal, and all in Psyche is divine. 

Orual is petty, selfish, base, ugly, she loves but in a selfish way, she has expectations for the love back, she feels deeply and unrequitedly, she wrestles with faith constantly, rebels against the gods, she makes mistakes, has pride, treats her loved ones wrongly at times.

Psyche is kind, sweet, demure, endlessly obedient, dreamily philosophical, one with nature, trusting, with unwavering faith (without real cause), and an abject, disinterested kind of love for her loved ones that is wholly unsatisfying to Orual.

Now that I've explained her, don't you kinda hate that bitch?

I mean, Jesus. Every woman should hate this girl because she is not a girl. She is not human. She is this weird thing someone made up that is the philosophical equivalent of Dove commercials telling women their armpits aren't smooth enough.

Oh yes! Let's be like Psyche! Please drug me and tie me to a tree to be sacrificed so that I will have a mass delusion that I'm married to a god, when in reality some homeless dude is sneaking in and out of a cave at night to have sex with me.

 

Oh, and did I mention she's beautiful? Like, really beautiful? So beautiful peasants started revering her as a god? I think I need to mention that she's beautiful. Every (she's beautiful) Other (she's beautiful) Word (btw, she's beautiful).

Her beauty and her dreamy loose grasp of the material world are the only two things that define this girl, and only one (guess which one) is any catalyst to the story.

So, Orual's a butterface (I hate that word, but I feel like if this book were written in modern times, they'd say that, or fugly), and her life sucks because of her lack of beauty. But guess what else is punished?

Oh yeah.

Beauty.

Psyche is revered and then sacrificed because she's so beautiful.

So that's fun.

 

The Fox, Ravenil, that general guy, his wife, the nursemaid, and everyone else

Can go fuck themselves. Seriously. They all suck. 

Especially, you The Fox. Your psuedo-socratic ramblings meant to help me reach enlightenment are dumb.

 

The Palace Scene

One of the most heart-wrenching scenes is the reason Lewis wrote it: the palace scene.

Orual goes back up to the mountain where Psyche was tied up and left to die for a sacrifice. Psyche is alive, whole, and well, not hurt, not starved, deliriously happy. They have a good talk and Psyche reveals that she is sleeping with a god, "her husband" that she's never seen. Also, he had taken her to his godly palace with wine, and food, and rich, spacious decorations. She says they are sitting in it right now. Orual sees or experiences nothing but the outdoors around her.

 

Let me first say that I get what Lewis is doing here. The ability to believe her, even when you see nothing, the doubt of what is reality, the test of science against religion, the ultimately unanswerable quest for truth.

Yep yep yep.

 

As a person with FEELINGS, however, as someone who empathizes with characters, this was incredibly horrific. Here she is, finding her sister alive and whole at last, only to find that not only will she not come back, she deludes herself into thinking she is married to a god.

And I don't believe for a second that it's a real god. No. Orual might struggle with it, she might have confirmed it in the end, but I don't believe it at all. Her sister is wandering around the woods of a mountain, pretending water is wine, that she's living in a palace, and some dude is having sex with her.

 

My heart broke for Orual, who has to watch her sister descend abruptly into madness with no way to help her. My heart broke for Psyche, who was so upset when her sister didn't believe her, when she said that she yearned for death, and that death was the best possible outcome of her future.

I hated Psyche when she said she was her husband's (who she has never seen) property. I hated Orual when she said she would rather kill Psyche than allow her to sleep with someone beneath her.

 

Bardia's funeral

Almost as stressful was when Bardia (the general guy) died and Orual and Bardia's wife have a big confrontation. OUT OF THE BLUE, Orual decides Bardia was her great unrequited love, and pretty much challenges the wife on who had his love the most.

Pretty, uh, selfish to do at his funeral, right?

By this time, Orual's been fighting alongside Bardia for a couple decades, and she thinks she has a greater right to Bardia than a woman who is his "play-thing" his "whore."

WHOA. Not so subtle shade on the importance of wives, there, Lewis.

They duke it out and come out pretty much even in their grief, each deserving a piece of him, but not the whole. Both grieving his loss. 

The whole thing is very depressing and I ultimately feel sad for both, but especially for the wife. That there was a contest at all. Her whole darn life was dedicated to this man, after all, and she gets his love piecemeal?

 

Fuck.

This.

Book.

 

Conclusion

Believe me, there is more I could say about this weird-ass, sexist book, but I just need to stop. In general, I feel like Lewis didn't have a very high opinion of humans, because pretty much every character was a horrible human being. There was pettiness, selfishness, lots of jealousy, outright malice, and thoughtless cruelty.

I also don't have any faith at all in the characters he puts on a pedestal. Both Psyche and The Fox are godly in a selfish way, too much in their heads, too self sacrificing.

The real meat of human existence, I believe, is completely missed throughout this book, as if it doesn't exist.

Connection. Truly caring for another. Sympathy. Empathy. Community. Kindness for kindness's sake. Truly knowing that people exist outside your own inner world.

These don't exist here.

They have moments, but each characters are so mired in their own self-doubt, selfishness, and high thoughts for them to make a difference.

Is this what he is getting at? A cruel existence or God?

 

Whatever he's selling, I'm not buying it. And, also, the fact that he's selling. Just all around icky connotations from most angles.

I seem to have differing opinions with Lewis on many fronts, such as, to pick a few: that the soul is not stationary, damned or not damned, that people are a product of their environment, that people are basically good, that women are humans, that humans (or women--they are mutually exclusive) are not defined by their appearance, that all people are deserving of love...

 

So, I guess I won't be reading the Chronicles of Narnia ever in my life now.

 

I've never read the books, but when I told my sister Katy about a few of the particularly sexist parts in Till We Have Faces, she said, 

"I'm not surprised. There's that part in the last books of Narnia where one of the kids doesn't get to go to Narnia (and therefore heaven) because 'she discovered lipstick and boys.'"

Fan-fucking-tastic.

 

Whoo.

I'm glad that's over with.

 

The next book I'm reading starts with a duke falling into a fountain! He ends up with a lily pad on his head!