February 1, 2013
A farce! A farce! My kingdom for a farce!
I am a big fan of those fast-paced, nonsensical, screwball comedies that came out of Hollywood in the late 30’s early 40’s. His Girl Friday, My Man Godfrey, Lady Eve, Theodora Goes Wild, His Favorite Wife, The Awful Truth, Libeled Lady, etc. All of these movies have one thing in common: great accelerated dialogue. Sometimes the banter goes by so fast you might miss it. Are these movies dated? Sure. Are some of them silly? Sure. Do they still make me laugh? You betcha.
So, when I read the plot-line of Victoria Alexander’s What Happens at Christmas, I rubbed my hands together with glee. I know Victoria Alexander can write fun dialogue and the idea of our heroine hiring a group of odd actors to impersonate her family had all the makings of screwball. Well, what’s that saying about if wishes were fishes we’d all have mercury poisoning, or something like that? Anyway, my hankering for a fun-filled frolic was not to be.
There be spoilers ahead matey. Evidently our heroine, Camille, is constantly getting into trouble, so the idea of her trying to impress a prince with a fake family isn’t too bizarre. And, she’s talked her twin sister into going along with her. By the way, the prince in this story comes from a county with a “nia” ending. Groan. So, she’s got this fake family, and fake servants and of course none of these people do what they are supposed to do. The set-up for this part of the story could have turned into something hysterical. There is even an actor/butler who psst's to get attention. However, this part of the book wasn’t allowed to flourish. What half of the book evolved around was the reuniting of our beloved couple, Camille and Gray.
Camille and Gray grew up together; they were the bestest of friends. And then one day, Gray decided he loved Camille, so he told her. Well, timing doesn’t seem to be Gray’s strong suit. He told her on the eve of her wedding to another man. Camille’s reaction was what one would suspect from a practical (or shallow) person: he didn’t have the means to support her. Or at least that’s what she told him. Camille didn’t seem to be able to think on her feet. Gray’s feelings were hurt and he left to find his fortune. Camille, on the other hand, didn’t understand why Gray never returned to her. After all, he said he loved her. What did it matter if she was married to someone else? So, according to Camille, she was heartbroken. Our intrepid couple are left to wander aimlessly for 11 years, heartbroken. Never, ever, able to forgive. For 11 years.
Of course Gray returns, after 11 years, and delivers a basket of goodies to Camille’s house. He instantly catches on to what Camille is doing, which isn’t hard because her fake sister walks into the room he’s standing in and mistakes him for another actor. He decides that he will also pretend to be someone just so he can be around Camille. Camille is mad at him, the sneak, she can never forgive him, you see he broke her heart after all…11 years ago. She hates him, she hates him, he broke her heart. How dare he tell her he loved her right before she marries someone else. Camille tells her sister that Gray broke her heart, she tells her mother, she tells Gray, he tells his friend, his cousin tells him, he tells his cousin (Win, Lord Stilwell) that she broke his heart, he tells her sister that his heart was broken, she tells the dog, (I lied, there isn't a dog) Win tells her she broke Gray's heart. How can it be? He broke my heart, how could I break his? Not only do we get to read all of the conversations about the dreaded heart breaking, we also get to delve into their minds. What do you suppose Camille and Gray are thinking about? Their broken hearts, over and over and over. Alllll those years, broken. You know, Bobby Crogan broke my heart in the 1st grade and I was able to move on. But not Camille. I think there might be a mental health issue with someone when they can't move on.
As often happens in romance novels, eventually, the feuding couple have frenzied sex, rip each others clothing off, buttons flying, hair pins dropping, papers scattering, things falling to the ground...hot, hot, hot whankey-poo. And, then they talk…No, no, no…don’t talk…don’t talk…don’t bring up the broken heart again!!! AAARRRGGGG, too late. Once again, Camille tells Gray he broke her heart. This time instead of being a mopey Joe, he slams out of the room. (After he puts his pants on.) Then, poor crazy Camille, maybe she was too hard on him, maybe 11 years is too long to hold a stupid grudge. Camille. I wanted nothing more than to reach through the pages of this book and punch her.
It wasn't only Camille and Grayson I had a problem with. Toward the end of the book Camille's dead father shows up very much alive. I think it was supposed to be funny, but it was just odd.
This could have been a fun book. The zany people were there just waiting in the wings, wanting to partake in some great screwball comedy. Twas not to be. The Camille and Gray romance didn’t connect. They didn't have much chemistry and, more importantly, they didn’t fit into the rest of the story. And by the way, Win, Lord Stillwell, who has his own book, The Importance of Being Wicked, is very charming and funny in this book. But, you don't need to read What Happens at Christmas to find that out. Usually, I enjoy reading a Victoria Alexander book; however, in this case it just didn't happen.
Time/Place: England, 1886...bustle time
Sensuality: Some Heat