Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sleeping Beauty by Judith Ivory ****

This was one of my first forays into romance novels, and I got it as an audio book - almost exactly 2 years ago! I don't recall liking it all that much, even though my original rating was 4 stars, so I figured I would revisit it now to see if it had changed.

I didn't make any notes about it or review it at all, but this time it struck me that the narrator, Violet Primm, must be Davina Porter. I mean, it's just not that possible for a woman to so completely copy everything about another's voice for a 10-12 hour audio book, it just isn't! The speaking patterns, the pronunciations, everything about her voice screamed Davina Porter - and since I have listened to 5 of the 7 books in the Outlander series at least 4 times (I don't own the other 2 in audio) as well as 4 of the books in Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, I think I can recognize her voice! (that would several hundred hours of this woman's voice directly in my ears, mind you) In fact, I found 2 other references from people online saying exactly the same thing.

Some of Ivory's other books are favorites, but - 4 stars notwithstanding - this one isn't. I think it's sort of a 3.5 star. Of course, the narration was superb, so that didn't count against it! But the storyline - even if it was fable-based - just didn't "speak" to me. OK, it is supposed to be Sleeping Beauty. I found it hard to think of Coco as a Sleeping Beauty. For one thing, she was an extremely poor French child who was ruined by her employer and then tossed out on her ear, to raise her child alone. It soon became obvious to her that her charms were best used to make money, so she became a courtesan. (a very lucky woman to be able to do that in her teens - although perhaps we are supposed to believe first she was just a common prostitute?) In fact, she became a very well-known courtesan and then at some point married well, to man who gave her son his name.

The hero is James, a young scholar just returned from an ill-fated journey to Africa where he was the only survivor of his rather large contingent of scholars. He is lauded for his scholarly efforts, invited to all the best parties, has private meetings with Queen Victoria and is given a rather high post at Cambridge. He also had humble beginnings but will soon have an earlship, or is it earldom, bestowed on him. But the politics at play here go against his own wishes - to leave the Africans who helped him survive and their gold alone.

I listened very hard and paid close attention to the story to see if it would be better, seem a little different this time. Coco was in no way sleeping, or hidden away from the world, so I still didn't find the Sleeping Beauty metaphor. Oh, and there was this disparity in their ages - Coco a worldly 37, and James a naive, wet-behind-the-ears 29, who even admits that Coco is only his 4th sex partner. Oo la la, you would think she had some things to teach him.

He does seem to have a problem with the fact that apparently she has already slept with most of the men he knows - his mentor, the bishop, various other dons at the college. Yeah, frankly, I can see where this would be a problem. I kept trying to do that math in my head - it's been more than a decade since she slept with men for money; her son is 22; she has just turned 37; she was married to someone who gave him a name (when was that?); she's been a widow for, if I recall correctly, 3 years. So, she gave birth at age 15; she stopped sleeping around at age 27 when the child was 12, but when was she being a courtesan and entertaining the Duke of Wales and when was she married?

So the story is, James and Coco meet at the dentist - he becomes besotted with her, not knowing a thing about her past since he's been in Africa - then he learns about her past - then she tries to shoo him away - and he's having to deal with the politics of people accusing him of wrong-doings associated with the Africa trip - and... then they do get together and then there's some things that keep them apart and then... they go to France? I dunno.

It was a little too disjointed for me. Then there is the ending. I read some complaints that it was done too quickly, ended too abruptly. Au contraire - once he publicly declared his love, I was ready for a short epilogue and then the HEA statement, not 3 more chapters of blah blah blah.

I think that was my last re-read of this book, and I'll save my Ivory re-reads for The Indiscretion and Untie My Heart. Oh, and probably The Proposition.

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