April 19, 2013
Would Elizabeth Bennet have done that?
The Sweetest Madness was problematic for me. While the writing by Heather Snow was
what one comes to expect from Ms. Snow, I had a hard time thinking of this as an historical specific to the Regency time period. I don't think I would have had as much of a problem with this story if it had been set in maybe the Edwardian time period; in fact it would have been quite lovely.
The characters of Gabriel and Penelope are likeable and well-developed. They even make a great couple. They are the kind of couple I like: they are honest with each other, they talk to one another, and they are friends. Although, I do have to say Gabriel's attraction to Penelope at times bordered on stalker material and I didn't quite get why he was attracted to her. Oh sure, she was effervescent, but that's all she was, at least in the beginning. For me there just wasn't anything behind her shining eyes. After her husband dies and she is once again thrown in with Gabriel, I still didn't see anything other than friendship (at least on her part.) Sometimes when you read a romance the sexual tension between the couple fairly burns the pages, but in this case it seemed to me it was more of being told Gabriel found Penelope exciting but I didn't really feel that fizz. I never did figure out what was lacking, except maybe it was Penelope's obliviousness to Gabriel's drooling pulsations.
As I said before, Penelope and Gabriel made great friends and Penelope's desire to help Gabriel was extraordinary, dare I say Super Woman Stupendous. She even goes so far as to kidnap him to save him. You see, he has developed a psychological problem due to being in the war and he is about to be committed to an asylum. So, phenomenal Penelope conceives a stretch of the imagination romance kidnapping scheme and tricks him into leaving with her. Then the astounding Penelope hides Gabriel in the country so she can cure him. I have to ask, really? I don't think Elizabeth Bennet would do that. Oh, maybe Elizabeth would try to get help from a man, maybe her uncle, but Ms. Bennet would not go traipsing off into the country and then think that she could actually cure someone with a mental disorder. Although, she might just utter a smarmy comment or two.
Back to the astounding Penelope. While we are talking about the carriage ride to sanctuary, I have to confess I had a icky ewwww moment. We have are first kiss between Penelope and Gabriel in that carriage. You know I've read all sorts of first kiss scenarios over the years and some of them really are ridiculous in the setup, but this one I had a little bit of an adverse reaction to. As our couple are bouncing along the country road to refuge, Gabriel starts having one of his episodes and what is Doctor Penelope's solution to his dilemma? Why to kiss him, of course. This scene actually bothered me quite a lot, there were all kinds of ethical boundaries crossed just so we could have a kiss. If I had been asked, which I wasn't, I would have suggested not having that moment used as the first kiss.
On to another difficulty I had with this book - the astounding Penelope's understanding of psychological problems, in this case battle fatigue/exhaustion (which, by the way, was a term used in WWII and before that it was shell shock in WWI. In the Civil War [U.S.] the term used was "irritable heart," sometimes Da Costa's syndrome. It actually wasn't until WWI that shell shock/battle fatigue/exhaustion was recognized as something other than cowardice.) So, every time I saw the word pop up in the book I was thrown out of the story. And, while there were some people around who might have been enlightened enough to recognize the psychological problems that happen when you fight in battle, I don't think there would have been enough research on mental disorders around for Penelope to be so wise. We are talking about a time period where one of the medical treatments was bleeding someone to release humors (not the funny ones). The medical profession at this time is one of the reasons I would not time travel to meet Mr. Darcy. Anyway, while I appreciate Ms. Snow's attempt to bring a refreshing change to the Regency landscape, I would have liked it better if the story had been set at a later time period.
And, one last moment of being thrown out of the book: if you are hiding out in the country, you don't want anyone to find you, you are trying to heal your friend, why do you go to a dress-up party? Oh sure, Penelope wanted to see if her "cure" had worked, but couldn't you have dressed up in servants' outfits and gone to a crowded fair?
Now, having said all that I have to say if this couple had been placed in a later time period the whole story would have worked better for me. They were a lovely couple; they were friends and there was an enormous amount of trust on both sides. I just wish I hadn't been propelled out of the book so many times. There were too many things that were a stretch for me and that's too bad because I really did like Super Penelope and her sidekick Gabriel the torch-bearer.
Time/Place: Regency England