Monday, June 16, 2008

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught ****

Whitney, My Love is apparently quite a controversial Romance novel - one that most readers seem to love or hate right off the bat. I'm going to go with love - with some caveats.

I read it as part of my "read all the AAR Top 100 Romance Novels" challenge I issued to myself sometime this year. It's a book that is often discussed on the Romance forums I frequent, so I was curious to see where my own opinion would fit in with everyone else's.

The story takes place from 1815 - 1820 in England and Paris.

Whitney is our heroine - hoyden that she is, at age 15 she is desperately in love with Paul, a neighbor 10 years her elder, and seeks to impress him with such tomboyish feats as riding a horse bareback - standing up. She is a laughingstock amongst her country neighbors, who live to gossip and make her the center of it all. While she cannot sing or play the pianoforte or do needlework, she is fluent in several languages, plays chess masterfully and is in all ways not a lady. Her backstory: mother died when she was 5; father doesn't have a clue how to handle her and is cold and unloving. At the beginning of the story, her mother's sister and husband come to take her back with them to Paris, where her husband is stationed as a diplomat, so they can teach her the ways of gentle women and high society.

Clayton Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore, is our hero. The 34-year-old rake/rogue (and the difference is...?) who has mistresses galore and dallies with women but never gives his heart or offers marriage is introduced to Whitney in Paris and is beguiled. She doesn't remember even meeting him, but he decides to win her - and does so by buying her father out of enormous debt in exchange for her hand in marriage. Oh, without Whitney's knowledge, I might add. (Oops.) He plans to woo her as just another country gentleman, and purchases property next to her father's so he can be close enough to be handy. Her father calls her back from Paris (it's now 4 years later...) so that the plan can be put in motion.

When she comes back from Paris, not knowing she is already betrothed, she goes about winning the heart of her first love Paul. The fact that her new neighbor Clayton Westland is always around, escorting her about and dancing with her, doesn't stand in her way of her goal.

McNaught paints Whitney, while headstrong and taken to acting before thinking, as truly goodhearted, and though she does occasionally lie to get her way, she isn't intentionally cruel. She paints Clayton, however, as arrogant and with the temper of an abuser that he only barely leashes. But she also shows him to be exceedingly passionate and truly smitten with Whitney. Oh and he sorta jumps to wrong conclusions which complicates matters. Twice. Bad.

Apparently in the first version of this book, released in the late 70s or early 80s, he both beats her and rapes her. In the updated version I have, the beating scene is changed and he stops before actually doing it. In the rape scene, while what he does could be construed as rape, it comes across more as forced seduction - it seems this is a common feature in "early" romances (that is, 70s and 80s) that is not used as much anymore due to our more PC sensibilities. Of course, his inclination is indeed rape - he is forcing her to have sex as punishment, and is angry with her. That he pulls back before it is rape (and realizes it) and then seduces her, it doesn't change the fact that he is still angry with her and hurts her.

This was a Big Book: 708 pages in paperback. Even so, the only part I found too long or that didn't really fit was the story about his brother Stephen at the end. She wrote a sequel for Stephen, Until You, and I guess she was setting us up for Stephen's story. However, his story did go on and on, and then didn't end well, plus it didn't exactly fit or have anything to do with our hero and heroine, so it seemed out of place.

Her writing is good, and I was never bored or exasperated with the story in spite of the 2 Big Misunderstandings that occurred. Whitney showed remarkable growth as a person over the course of the book (I did wonder where she got some of her wisdom, since she didn't exactly have the best role models growing up - perhaps from her aunt and uncle?). I was moved by the emotions she experienced - I should say that Clayton put her through since he was such a bastard! I didn't really hate him, but I was glad that at the end she found a way to make her point: if you have a problem with my behavior, stupid, just ASK ME instead of making assumptions! It was a truly satisfying ending (I kept harboring this secret fear McNaught was going to kill Whitney, from some review or forum post I read but she does not) that also revealed some Claymore ancestors about which McNaught wrote another book, A Kingdom of Dreams.

I considered 5 stars for this book but in the end went with 4 - liked it very much but don't plan to re-read it anytime soon.

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