Archive for August, 2012

44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel – Chick Lit, Social Drama & English for Beginners

44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel

I took English Literature for my ‘A’ Levels and I’m embarrassed to admit that despite being an avid reader and already a professional writer (I had a few art school caliber scripts, a magazine article and some copywriting for which I’d been, amazingly, financially compensated), I barely passed the subject. It was not that I was not any good at it. Actually, I managed to pick up quite a few good tricks to dissecting, analyzing and criticizing the blood, sweat and ink of another. To redeem myself, I can only cry that I had really slow penmanship whereas the Cambridge University Syndicate of GCSE has a warped sense of accomplishment when marking exam papers – quality counts for nothing if you can’t back it up with plenty of word counts. And I have this teensy-weensy problem with editing and reediting my work and time management thereof. As you can see, I have some unresolved angst there, for which I cannot even completely blame them.

In any case, one of the important lessons I learnt from my various literature professors was distinguishing recurring themes – how tiny details in the descriptions, narratives and dialogues can link to a central theme – or sometimes more than one central theme – and present the bigger picture. These little details that reinstate the theme would be subtle and sublime and sophisticated. Often I would miss them during the first reading (for which I am thankful because looking for them can ruin the basic purpose of reading literature – entertainment). Often I would find them exhausting to memorize to refer to later during exams. Often I would be delighted by their discoveries and intricacies. Often I would see them where they did not really exist! This was not the case with 44 Charles Street.

For all the subtlety of mannerism that the central character of this novel, Francesca Thayer, enjoyed in others, subtlety is not what Steel dealt with while beating the central concerns of the character in the head. For example, I had no problem understanding that it was an important aspect and setback in Francesca’s life that her mother was obsessed with getting married and that this played a significant role in Francesca’s evasion to matrimony – because this very fact was repeated throughout the book and not in the subtext alone but with explicit narratives and often dialogues. I suppose it helped set the mood but I found it exhausting to have to read about so many times. Then again, as far as getting the big picture and coming to a full circle, Francesca does end up committed to a man by the end of the novel despite her aversion to marriage being the cause of her breakup with her longtime boyfriend in its opening chapter.

Steel follows all the standard regulations of writing a fully robust piece of literature – standards that make it great literature. And what is great for me is that this novel also follows the standards of my favorite genre – women’s literature. The novel begins with emotional and financial crises of the central character, which is a woman, and follows through a series of upheavals and resolutions and further traumas, some of which are elemental and many of which are social, that help reshape her perception about human relationships. Through conflicts and resolutions, Francesca is able to open up herself to the idea of welcoming others into her life despite previous prejudices and fill in the biggest void that she had been harboring since childhood – to find a love that fit her mentality and a family where she may belong.

But really, take it from someone for whom English is officially a “second language” (because of my place of birth), that this book is splendid for someone who is just beginning to grasp the nuances of the language. This attribute of the novel was slowly creeping into my subconscious as I progressed through the book but really hit me in this particular scene [here is where I’ll do a bit of that referencing I learnt during ‘A’ Levels] where Francesca and her love interest (I don’t want to give away the story for anyone who hasn’t read it) is about to go out on their first date:

‘So what did you tell Marya and Charles-Edouard?’ [her love interest] repeated the question. She hadn’t answered.
‘I told them you hate their food and wanted to go out for a decent dinner.’ With two of the most famous chefs in the world cooking daily meals for them, it was admittedly hard to justify going out. But this was different.
‘Very amusing.’ He knew she hadn’t really said that.
‘I told Marya you invited me to dinner.’

A person who communicated in the English language on a regular basis would be able to pick up the sarcasm in Francesca’s tone of dialogue without Steel having to spell it out that ‘He knew she hadn’t really said that’ whereas a novice in the English novel readership wouldn’t. So this book really is a spell-everything-out kind of book, which would be understandable if Steel was concerned about meeting the reading capacity of her readers worldwide. But this novel is riddled with such scenes or narratives. And unfortunately, this sometimes killed the mood for me just as it did with Steel’s habitual repetitions of explicit thematic statements. I was really beginning to enjoy the development of Francesca’s romantic liaison and the humorous rapport she was building with her love interest, but having to read through all of that explanation in the middle of potentially witty dialogue was sheer teeth-grinder.

As you may notice, I have really mixed opinion of this novel. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was very well conceptualized the way the characters developed and the story developed, how it all coordinated to reach a sensible full-bodied conclusion, how the scenes were all plausible and how I could connect that every scene in this novel may actually happen in real life. As a chick lit lover and writer who constantly has to fight the sarcasm and skepticism of readers who find romance novels and women’s literatures one-tracked and “easy on the intellect”, I think having this book on our corner of the library is a big gold star for us. But in the same tone one of my robust heroes would say, with frustration but endearment, “Hell, woman! I get what you mean. Enough with the communication.”

But what do I know? And I do not say this with sarcasm. Danielle Steel is an author who is to be rightfully revered for having written over 100 novels, of which a quarter have been filmed, whereas I am still struggling to complete my first and second at the same time and am publishing one online on my blog so that readers may get used to reading my work for free and publishers take notice of me. She is the 4th bestselling author of all time and current bestselling author alive. Bless her! And I hope one day I would be as conscientious an author as her.

My point is, those of you who haven’t read this book yet, please do – it’s good. Even if it drags through sometimes, you can skip a couple of paragraphs here and there. For those of you who have read it, I will welcome your feedback on it as well as on what I have written about it here.

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I’ll Be True (Chapter 11)

Read Chapter 10 before you continue…

True to his words, Matthew was back within the first hours of the next morning while Elaina was out checking the pastures. He rode up to meet her on a robust ebony stallion that turned out to be Marty again and she was pleased to see how well he was riding on his own, needing little guidance from Jonny, who had obviously taken it upon himself to escort the beginner through his morning lessons safely. When Elaina complimented Matthew on his quick learning abilities, Matthew responded jubilantly by demonstrating a round of antics, running circles around the lady he was trying to impress. Elaina and Jonny both laughed good-naturedly but the latter audience felt bound to throw in a word of caution or two here and there.

Once Matthew settled down and began guiding his horse to a jaunty trot beside Elaina’s own Palomino, he informed her that with the riding lessons he was taking from Jonny in return of the photography lessons he was imparting, he was falling behind his set schedule on the photo shoots. Elaina told him she understood if he needed to get back and chased him away to work on his series instead of loitering around her all day, creating distractions. Before he left, however, Matthew procured a promise from her that she would visit the pub that evening so he could meet her there. Though she seldom visited the town on weeknights, seeing how little time Matthew had remaining in Lainie’s Creek, she readily agreed and waved them goodbye with a sense of exhilaration.

With the semi-date at Stone’s Waterhole in the horizon, Elaina worked through the rest of her morning chores with a lighthearted sprint. Unfortunately, Hayden had other plans for her mood when she got back to the stables. While she was brushing down her horse, her older brother stormed into the barn in a huff.

“What bee has been bugging you, Big B?” she joked, unaware of her role in her brother’s sour disposition.

“Tyler and I finally discovered how that Hereford got loose on the other side of the fence. Seems like it took the same route your new love interest took the other day to trespass on to our land. He failed to mention to us the loose stumps in the fence he had crossed to get to our side of the border.”

Elaina’s hand stilled over her horse’s back, where she had been brushing the horse’s mane. She perfectly comprehended the kind of disaster that could be instigated by an oversight such as a broken fence on a cattle ranch but she also knew her brother’s aggravation had deeper roots. This was the first time she came across Hayden in solitary since the previous night’s encounter and it seemed that Hayden was just itching for a confrontation that she was only too happy to supply. “Matthew was lost, as you very well now know. And he is from the city so we can’t expect him to have the same survival sense about pasture enclosures as us. Why don’t you just tell me why you don’t like him so we can get over this embarrassing charade?”

Hayden recoiled in defense. “I see no cause to pay mind to City Boy one way or another. But don’t you think you’re jumping a little too fast to join his welcoming committee? You don’t know anything about the guy other than the fact that he’s here with the woman whom, by the way, you can’t even stand any longer.”

“And what business is that of yours,” asked Elaina, bristling, the tension that was rippling under her skin was spooking her horse, which protested in an abrupt whine. She unconsciously began patting its neck but her tone was no less cold as she continued, “Is that why you barged in on us last night? Because you don’t like his connection to Brooke?”

“Do I need any more cause for caution other than the fact that my sister is consorting with the man who’s visiting our town with the biggest traitor I’ve ever seen?”

“I can take care of myself!” shouted Elaina, now completely stepping away from her horse. She was shaking with fury that was not only targeted towards her meddling older brother. What her blossoming romance with Matthew had made her overlook had suddenly loomed back to the foreground of her consciousness – at the end of the day, when all things were said and done, she could not ignore the fact that her only connection to Matthew was drawn by and hanging by the balance of her relationship with Brooke.

Hayden sneered. “Yeah, we all know how well you took care of yourself the last time a city slicker came to town.”

Elaina flinched as though she had been slapped. She knew that he had witnessed the ugly scene between herself and her former best friend those five years ago and he knew that she knew he had witnessed it. But what was worse was both were acutely aware of how Elaina had crumpled after the incident, but this was the first time the incident was mentioned between them. It was a humiliating experience for her then and she could feel that humiliation wash over her even now. But the years had given her something to heal with that she had not possessed in the past – maturity enough to taste the lemons that life handed her with a pinch of salt. She mustered up that sense of grounded maturity now as she coolly answered her brother’s insult with dignity that she feigned better than she felt. “That’s not fair and you know it. I had no control over what happened then. But since I’ve already been there before, I’ll know how to handle myself with greater poise this time, won’t I?”

Hayden looked ashamed of himself and Elaina felt sorry for him. She knew he had her best interest at heart and, in many ways, her personality was mirror image to his – protective of those they loved, vigilant, self-sufficient and stubbornly set in their own ways. And it was this trait that had made Hayden burst out now to warn her about where she was storing her trust. “I just think you should act with more care and restraint with people who do not understand our ways of life,” he muttered in way of apology.

Elaina nodded with understanding but added, “Maybe I’m tired of being careful all the time. I’ve been careful for the last five years and I want to take a leap and experience life for the first time in my adulthood.”

Hayden’s brows furrowed with impatience that he had the presence of mind to iron away quickly. “Couldn’t you take a leap with someone closer to home? Someone who’ll stick around?”

“But that’s my point exactly. I don’t want to take a leap with anybody from home. If I land in a pile of cow dung on my first attempt, I don’t want the dung to be around for long to keep the memories stinking to high heavens, sort of speak,” Elaina laughed nervously.

Hayden arched his eyebrow at the image she painted with her words. “Is that what you’re up to? You really think you know what you’re doing?”

“I know that I know what I’m doing,” retorted she with convictions she prayed to God were not misplaced. “I’m just having a bit of fun, is all. Don’t worry so much,” she added, chiding him softly.

Hayden sighed. “I try not to. Really. But with Dad gone, it’s up to me to hold it together.”

His young features looked tired and older than their years and Elaina’s heart went out to him. She crossed the space between them and wrapped her arms around his torso, an act that she could not recall of having committed to in the recent past. “We’re all adults, Hayden. Well, at least all but Jonny. But even he will get there within the next twenty, thirty years.” They shared a laugh at their younger sibling’s expense, before she added, “You really don’t need to constantly look out for us.” She gave her brother an extra tight squeeze to show that she meant business and he responded with a squeeze of his own to tell her he appreciated what she was saying.

As Elaina stepped back, Hayden tipped her Stetson off her head just to lighten the mood and hide the gruffness in his voice as he said, “Don’t make an ass out of yourself over City Boy.”

Elaina bent down to swipe her hat off the ground and shoved it back on, shaking her head at her brother. “Just so we’re on the same page.”

*** Read the rest of this entry »

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