Evie Dunmore - League of Extraordinary Women #2 - A Rogue of One's Own
[Read Sept 2020
One of my rare 2-stars. I give the Romance a 3, but clinging with its fingers curled on the ledge.
I have to take a mild breath here, also, before I make broad claims about what it could mean if someone had read this book and never once had made mention of anything that might have been problematic or a wrong doing. If someone rated it on simple romance and the build-up and the lead-into to the culmination of a happy [for now] ending...congratulations.
Let me preface this by saying also that Evie Dunmore's problematic offenses and misappropriations take a precedent over generalized problematic romance issues.
Say, if a reader sees problems in a Rakish Hero when he suggestively seduces, blackmails or coerces with tactics a weak-kneed, jelly-legged heroine easily succumbs to as she collapses like a cheap folding chair when she only keeps her eyes on her own personal prize in the end results---sole ownership of a publishing business. This is typical of the Romance genre in general so having a “clutch my pearls” moment over something like this feels trivial. And certainly in the context of how Evie Dunmore executes Lucie falling so easily into Tristan’s clutches...my sympathy meter falls toward E--for empty.
I feel what was done to a whole country and its people, and then what was then done to a Suffragette Movement that deserved a wider world and class view... and also for the propensity that comes when you attempt to be well-intentioned and enlightened [or awoken] that you at least behave in compassion and have a sensitivity that you are walking narrow edge into seeing a different world through “eyes” that will never be your own.
I think, also, Evie Dunmore opens herself up to certain scrutiny. Not simply because she opened her book [a book on women's rights] but shrouded her romance in the menacing shadows of an whole country's [and people's] colonialism and imperialism, and because she had some idea she would be safer under the cloak of saying in her Acknowledgment pages this, she THANKS::
- - My sensitivity readers. [and also calling her editor "eagle-eye"]
I can only imagine that many of those who did some type of reading work for Evie Dunmore's prior manuscripts of this book were like-minded as she is. So, yeah, someone should have picked up on some very detailed offenses that not only occurred once but continued to happen with some abandon.
I get it. I understand that we must not white-wash or completely erase a moment in history. Had Evie Dunmore merely allowed Tristan, her Hero, to simply have fought in Afghanistan, to have lived in India during this British Rule as most Anglo-Saxon [British] men had, maybe we wouldn't need to discuss such offenses.
I do not know why nor will I ever understand why Evie Dunmore chose to put a misappropriated religious tattoo--term it Lady Shiva and then abuse it for her mode of judging a man caught up in sexual misconduct allegations [possible rape]. The fix is easy if all you needed was a heavily detailed tattoo.
And why did it have to be Lord Shiva misappropriated as a naked four-armed Indian woman they jokingly refer to as "Lady Shiva"? I know this story wants to support empowering women, but this takes us in the wrong, slanted direction.
A whole country's misappropriation in order to delight or be enchanted by India? Taking parts of India culture or Indian religion and misrepresenting them. This saddens and disappoints me.
Off the shoulders of India's oppression, I just--I am left despondent and wondering how this could happen in the world of 2019, or even 2020. This makes it, for me, quite possibly ten-times as worse as Book 1 and I could barely stomach the heaviness of that book with the highly misleading colorfully animated joyful cover.
But let me be quite frank, The Romance found amongst the backdrop of the British Raj, India's oppression...the colonialism and imperialism of a whole entire country during the time period, is quite possibly deeply cross-purposing a highly-sensitized issue of oppressing women's civil rights.
Once I knew and understood what Evie Dunmore had done--the offensive content--I had some idea maybe this was being blown out of proportion. But when it's done as blatantly as this book clearly supports, yeah, it suddenly becomes pretty disturbing that this was looked over by "sensitivity readers.
I truly believe one can be so "woke, or believe you are awoken or enlighten to such an extent you blindly begin to step over marginalized people in order to get to a percieved mountain top of wonderment. This is a huge failure in thewrong direction.
Not just India [its people, culture, religion]
The rest of the Suffragette Movement.
The mishandling and misjudging of other sexualities as non-hetero-normative.
You say you are supportive but then you degrade and you have other characters [like the Heroine] call out the Hero who claims a different sexuality, not the norm. He is then continually described as "useless" and/or "gross" and "disgusting", possibly "highly contagious of the pox" because of hyper-sexuality...
These are a few of the heaviest issues, the offensive and problematic ones, too. Let me not even begin to dig through the messiness of Lucie and Tristan as singular souls, in their own private worlds. And then, once one knows or comes to realize then fantasize that a wish fulfillment of an enemies/hate-to-lovers is on its way...one must be prepared for a bad faith attempt at pinning the wrong trope on a genuinely improperly balanced couple.
I find myself hard-pressed to enjoy or find anything remotely funny or joyful about one of the purported romantic couple having such a venomous and menacing hatred, while the other has a seemingly unconditional, undying emotion [maybe toward like/love]. Half the book is Lucie hatefully despising anything and everything about Tristan. And I mean EVERY.THING. But she is especially gruesome and toxic with his sexuality.
If Annabelle's book was our intro, then fine. Annabelle was a side-character to the actual Movement itself and never genuinely a piece of it. But this is Lucie. She is one of the main driving forces of this Movement. Her whole embodiment of this romantic tale is equaled to the hard-working two years she has spent attempting to cornerstone a publishing business so she can use it to "get the word" out about women's civil rights and simply to be “heard”. She feels so passionate about her "cause" she becomes dead inside--gray, drab, lifeless. Her friends and roommates pretty much think she is NEVER happy. She, quite literally never is, in truth.
What else should we expect from Lucie's book as a solid main member of The Movement? Better, more succinct rep, I would say.
I understand we have our “League of Extraordinary Women”: we have had Annabelle, Lucie, next we will have Hattie and then Catriona. These are all fine, but let me start by saying...every single one of these female characters is a white Anglo-Saxon heterosexual woman. There are no representations of color. There are no representations of queerness. There are no representations of different classes in society.
We do know they exist. Our history books might not all contain their names but if you do a harder deep-dive, these women fought right alongside all those white middle-class-to-high-class cishet-gendered women.
An Author is merely letting out half of a huge story if all that is represented are the proper “included” classes but never the outlier “excluded” ones. The book’s attempt at mild rep for the poor working class is...prostitutes
, at a brothel called, The Oyster. Even then, Lucie as a leader seems disinterested in including their “stories” when she is more adamant to include women like her and their personal stories, many in private letter formats she wishes to publish using the publishing house business.
I grew deeply concerned with how this book deals with outlier sexualities not hetero-normative to the romantic couple featured. And I say this with the utmost respect, Evie Dunmore attempted and failed, once more.
If you stage your storyline about a part of the populous being excluded and wanting to be included, please try not to tread heavily on another marginalized faction of human existence. Again, I understand to be historically accurate we have to show a bit of the disconnect as many sexualities were not just frowned upon in society but also seen as "criminal", cause for possible imprisonment.
Tristan's own father, Rochester, threatens him with being arrested for his sexual hedonism [a local gay man's den of inequity, Lord Arthur, that Tristan is frequently at] of sleeping with both men and women, but also, it seems that he has done this on purpose. Tristan says he identifies as "bisexual" yet his intentions are never towards being romantically linked to both sexes nor having well-intended relations with both sexes. His sexuality is one of...how do I put this?
There is a conversation Tristan has with his overbearing father, where the screws are about to be put to him that he either cleans up his act [dresses correctly, takes the diamond stud out of his earlobe and stops being a foppish dandy] for 3-months or he will institutionalize Tristan's dear mother in a private asylum, much like Bedlam. Extortion, I say, because it hinges on him earning estate/inheritance monies while not being who he genuinely is in private.
Tristan admits, to his father, that he has been sleeping around to gain power over some quite slanderous rumors. A local man, well-known in society circles as leading a similar self-indulgent lifestyle, Lord Arthur [the book's representation for a gay man
], has quite the stories to pass on concerning Tristan and the level of hedonism reached.
In a later chapter, from Tristan's POV, his inner monologue, we find this out...
- He had been keen, then, eighteen years of age and greedy for the hunt. He had just become aware that not only women, but some men, too, were drawn to his face, and the entire demimonde had been enchanted by the newness and youth of him. They had pulled him into the dimly-lit, sweltering, and sleepless underworld of gambling and debauchery, and it had been quite easy, pulling them in in return, securing their trust when they were drunk on Scotch and pleasure or stupidly tight on ether. Incriminating secrets were easily extracted during those hours, and he had made others gamble deep, all while he was still stone sober beneath an exuberant veneer of intoxication. Soon he had had a ledger with a carefully calibrated mix of legitimately owed debts and favors as well as secrets he could occasionally turn into coin by way of extortion. His personal, portable bank account, his last trump card.
Tristan has been sleeping around to gain ways and means to gather important information about the men [and women] around him in order to find an outlet to extort his own money gains, should he need it one day. And, yet Evie Dunmore wants her Hero to claim bisexuality
as HIS OWN, except this is not how best to describe your sexuality or how to properly "own" it when you do not genuinely live within it.
Let me be quite open about this idea of "owning" a sexuality. It must be your honest
truth, a constant way of life that you heed to because it is what you want and not you having sex with whomever you are attempting to screw over in the future. Genuinely, I mean it because Tristan’s form of sexuality feels like a story/plot tool. This is a factor that rattles me most.
I don’t know what kind of other-sexuality
was meant to be handed to Tristan's role, but it’s not honest. It feels forced and sloppy. He claims being "bisexual" as his sexuality. Except, lemme make this point...he has never shown any ounce of attraction to Lord Arthur, in fact spurns him several times--in the past and especially now. And he never has shown any actual attraction to men, ever, in the story. Any man. Ever, not even as a prior clandestine lover from his past.
Tristan has seemingly, always, had unrequited love for Lucie since childhood [close in age--1yr apart, Lucie is older--and their mothers are good friends]. It is so crystal clear time and time again, he will love her until the end of time, has loved her through physical abuse from his father to wars fought in and battles won and from a, literal, ocean away in several countries.
Evie Dunmore has written Tristan’s open sexuality as a means to an end, not for sake of pleasure either or that he was ever singularly attracted. Men were simply there to bring to the bed to gather “Intel”, plain and simple. And other women NOT-Lucie...were fallen scraps in the wake it seems, satiating when he could never have what he wanted.
Oh, yes, Tristan is a highly typical historical rake and scoundrel, maybe a reprobate when it appeared to him like his life was wasted or he was inconsolable, needing companionship or emotional connection.
Why oh why give him an identity as bisexual
unless one wants to help readers focus on Lucie’s side of the story, of the wild-rompy, overly-sexual and of being a part of many orgies in gossip? To help readers gain a semblance of how other-sexualities-not-cis-het could be perceived...as more gross or disgusting, deplorable people because of hyper-sexuality? Create a proper background for Lucie to hate more intensely?
Time and time again, Lucie is judging Tristan, but also feeling quite attracted—to her, for no explicable reason until the time arrives for them to be intimate, then despite her abhorrence, she easily succumbs. Mainly because she knows in the end of her intimacy with Tristan she will become sole owner of London Print.
I am still so unclear even as I have finished the book and he has a happy [for now] ending with Lucie.
Tristan can be allowed to be a rake/scoundrel without it ever being revealed what his sexuality is. As a Romance reader veteran, I am quite fine with never being told who or what the rakish hero is in the bedroom. A bit of mystery or murkiness that we can only wish Lucie finally receives once they become an intimate couple, off-book.
Why is it important for us, as readers, to know? To "define" it or even "claim" it as being what you genuinely are, when we know you are not by your own mouth, the words on paper?
Women’s struggle for civil rights is a progressive movement, right? The misrepresentation of what bisexuality is to many is appalling, as is Tristan's mode of conduct, but also attacking and ridiculing and cultivating a fog of hate and anger towards those of a different sexuality is just...well, it’s not where we want to be.
I had made many mentions of our only gay character [except a brief appearance in a bar of Oscar Wilde
where we are to have some forced-fed belief that Wilde
may have mirrored "The Picture of Dorian Gray"
on his meeting w/Tristan...**massive eye-roll
**] by the name of Lord Arthur. Many people in London society already know Lord Arthur runs a hedonistic den out of his own home, his “house parties” are always “orgies”, which is what Tristan's father attempts to use against him---the fact that Lord Arthur can make some wild substantiated claim of Tristan's actions to get him gossiped about, slandered on or imprisoned.
What is most unlikable is Lord Arthur as a whole
character or why he even exists to begin with. How he is, then introduced to readers, inch by slow inch, and then how he manifests until he, literally, crumbles in a weak moment of having been unable to acquire any ounce of dignity from Tristan, despite his threats to Rochester, Tristan's father. Then suddenly, without much fanfare he turns dastardly and evil, becoming our villain of the book.
Evie Dunmore has given Lord Arthur, the only gay man featured, the "cap" of uber-Bond Villain, except he isn't very good at it when faced with Tristan on his own. I do not know why this has been done nor why Lord Arthur became so adamantly connected to the Hero that his very character goes through a very sporadic heavy shift change, from low-brow villain to then becoming someone who helps a female cousin bring charges of “rape”/sexual misconduct against Tristan.
Lord Arthur is a something-something-cousin-once-removed
from Lucie...and Lucie has a young, Blonde and beautiful cousin, named Cecily. Lucie is estranged from her family--her own mother...and Cecily has become a genuine "replacement" daughter. Lord Arthur never makes it any secret of his highly aggressive and hyper-hormonal tendencies around Tristan; he has an unconditional adoration of Tristan that has no basis in true facts. It truthfully seems that Lord Arthur has built some fantastical bond between he and Tristan because...
...there was an orgy one night at his home, one of his many gossiped about “house parties”; both Lord Arthur and Tristan were occupying much the same space, but roughly well-distanced. From across the room, while Tristan was fucking a woman on a table, Lord Arthur caught Tristan’s gaze. From then on, Evie Dunmore will continually write Lord Arthur, her gay representation role, as a consummate stalker who believes or wantonly thinks he and Tristan had a “connection” that night with no basis in fact, built all in a single man’s head.
And now, in current time for this story, Lord Arthur is following Tristan around town, like a sad puppy desperate for affections. Getting drunk at pubs/bars he knows Tristan frequents, then following Tristan down the street to physically accost him and throw himself at his very feet. It’s maddening that the one big interaction they have almost ends up with Tristan nearly brawling with Lord Arthur, causing physical hurt or harm. Instead, Lord Arthur trips, falling drunkenly to the wet ground and just, remains placed near Tristan’s groin level, crying and moaning about “why won’t you
[Tristan] just succumb?
”...and, sadly, this is what is given to readers as another proper form of representation.
Because Tristan has done countless of denials and of “pushing” Lord Arthur away, literally, with hands on his body, suddenly the Big Baddie of our story develops in the blink of an eye. Lord Arthur will, at one point, locate his cousin Cecily, when she believes she is in some kind of perpetual arrangement [loose engagement] with Tristan, that he uses her warped sense of decency to seek his revenge. And it will happen at Montgomery & Annabelle’s house party, publicly.
Lord Arthur is also someone who has seen proof that Tristan has a tattoo above his shoulder bullet wound, on bare skin, but he informs of the wrong details to his cousin Cecily, who grows evil-doer, as well. Lord Arthur has never seen it up-close and personal as he has never had sex with Tristan.
I want to say something about the heroine here... Yes, Tristan is open about his sexuality and we were told he is "bisexual", has slept with men and women, but in truth many a story in the gossips have been fabricated to such a disgusting and grossly misleading degree. Sometimes by Tristan’s own making, merely to upset his tyrannical father, Rochester.
This story is a hate/enemies-to-love trope fulfillment. We must “fulfill” these hateful
parts properly, except...does it truly fulfill the wish of an exact trope when it is merely one-sided?
I had mentioned this awhile back but I want to bring it forefront once again because not only is Tristan's true sexuality still unclear...Lucie does not ever deal well with his open sexuality. As a woman who is a main leader of a marginalized, oppressed populous...she sits in a perpetual motion of judgment. Mainly of Tristan, but also of people who live or carry out their personal lives differently than hers. She even has a huge fight with Annabelle for daring to enjoy marriage to The Duke, Montgomery.
With Tristan, Lucie has an unfathomable idea that he is bedding both men and women, nonstop
, left and right because his hedonism is seen as hyper-sexuality. The quite venomous words pouring from Lucie’s lips are detrimental to believing she would have had any intentions of ever being intimate with him. This behavior causes one to imagine she dislikes not only Tristan, as a human being, but finds as a man, he is often quite dirty, filthy
, she would never consider a sexual relationship with him being so gross and disgusting in her frame of mind. She never understands how damaging her words are as she says intentional hurtful things right to his face, and sometimes behind his back.
How can a woman who feels like a man is, “filthy”, “dirty” or “useless” to society ever see his true worth?
Take a peek at some passages [and these are a few of the many times she talks bad about him]:: Context::
bad news for Lucie...she now co-owns LONDON PRINT w. Tristan. Six years ago, Tristan invested money in the one business who helped publish his book of poetry. He published under Anonymous, and when he returned from war, he settled up with taking another percentage of the business to one day in the future publish more content, war diaries or more poetry. “Do I like it,” she repeated. “The poetry, I presume? Why, I never read any of it.” She gave him a haughty look. “Pretty, empty things don’t hold my attention.” The gleam in his eyes faded. Context::
bad news for Lucie, again...She has accidentally discovered that her rival, Tristan, lives in London. She runs away from her girlfriends to visit a man's chamber late at night...UNANNOUNCED and enraged about him daring to move and live near her townhouse. Any sense of defeat went up in angry flames. “You think I dislike you for your childish pranks?” His eyes narrowed. “What else could it possibly be?” “Your ignorance is astonishing.” “Enlighten me,” he said darkly. “Just what crimes have I ever committed against you to merit such a degree of dislike?” “Dislike?” she said. “Very well, this is why I dislike you: you are a libertine. You seduce people for the sake of it, for sport. You will use and discard a woman just to pass an afternoon . . . you value trivial things and mock serious matters, and you talk a lot but say very little, which leads me to conclude your mind is lazy or foolish, or both . . . you misuse your superior station with your hedonistic ways, when most people cling to their positions by the skin of their teeth, and, worst of all, you have been assigned a seat in the House of Lords and yet you have not used it once—not once!—when millions go without a voice in this country. Truly, I can think of few men more useless than you, and I don’t dislike you, my lord, I detest you.” A dam in her, long cracked, had broken; the toxic words were pouring out of her like a waterfall.
These are simply a few examples of what Lucie says to Tristan, face-to-face
. She will sometimes talk about him behind his back
...even telling her 3 Suffragette girlfriends that she thinks Tristan "tricked" her into buying the company with him because he is "not always sober"...
The 4 women end up discussing what to do at London Print with Tristan [Lord Ballentine breathing air around loose women] there...
Their question being : employ a staff of women at London Print, instead of sending them off to Australia to marry husbands? The government’s current remedy of sending women to Australia with a one-way ticket so they could find husbands there was, as usual, a harebrained scheme. However . . . she shook her head. “A brilliant idea,” she said. “But no.” “Whyever not?” Catriona looked genuinely confused. “An office full of women workers?” Another shake. “It would be unwise, with Ballentine so close. He hardly needs the added acclaim of being a romantic poet—he could cause disruption just by flaunting himself around the office. And he will. Sensible women will turn against each other, competing for his attention. The one he lures will suffer a broken heart and do something deranged . . . you have all seen the headlines he causes. And I will have to dismiss her, because I cannot dismiss him.” Her friends were regarding her with a collective frown, as though she had quite lost her mind. “Aren’t you doing us an injustice?” Annabelle asked mildly. “I know he’s a scoundrel, but it will take more than a handsome face and some flirtation to turn women into imbeciles.” “I agree,” muttered Catriona. “Have some faith in our rational faculties.” Lucie blew out a breath. To an outsider, she would sound quite unhinged. “You have to understand something about Ballentine,” she said. “He used to be a second son, and his hair was orange. There were rumors he wasn’t even Rochester’s. What does such an unfortunate boy do to survive? He becomes charming. And witty. He becomes a veritable Machiavelli of charm. He will eventually sense your desires and weaknesses from a mile away and will use them against you as it suits him. Now imagine that a boy with such a grudge and such skills grows into an extraordinarily handsome man, becomes the heir, and returns home with the Victoria Cross. Can you imagine what this makes him?” For a long moment, only the crackling sound of the fire filled the room.
Lucie despises Tristan to the extent where she has convinced all of her girlfriends that he cannot even be trusted inside the publishing offices and that women will simply fall all over him and he will mindlessly accost them.
Lucie also finds herself, like I said, judging those who live a different lifestyle from her.
In a very early chapter, as Lucie arrives to her townhouse in Oxford, she informs readers of having been kicked out of her family home 10yrs ago, which is why she lives with Mabel, Lady Henley, a widow and fellow suffragist. When we are in Lucie’s head, she comes across as uber-judgmental. And, also, much too often in the story, she seems to have reached a weird malaise of some sort about her overall life--like she is missing something, someone or generally “missing out” on Life.
Here we will soon have a bad, terrible set-up to a reunion, of sorts.
Lady Henley is giggling and carrying on the other side of the townhouse. As a widower, Lady Henley is given a certain “pass” to do what she will amongst society; she hangs around the women of Oxford University and she partakes of her own certain and, sometimes, flashy-flirty ways with men. And when Lucie meanders over to tell Mabel to “keep it down”, she finds her old rival, Tristan, on her doorstep, simply chit-chatting or possibly seducing Lady Henley through her open window off the stoop outside.
He appears unkempt, like he just came from a lover’s bed [this is Lucie telling us how he seems]. They have not seen one another in a solid year. This seemed to be when Tristan was sent to war, for the British military, to fight in Afghanistan. Six months ago, he returned home to Oxford after having received the Victorian Cross. Because of his excellent service in England’s name, he now has a proper seat in the House of Lords--he is called, Lord Ballentine.
This is where we start to see that Lucie judges
people, without truly knowing them. She assumes she knows Tristan’s wit and charm, how it weaves its dastardly web over unsuspecting women...and Mabel is simply too horny and in love with Tristan to not see how much he will never care about her, in the least. She attempts to deny Mabel the right to a simple, single conversation with an adult male, through a window.
This is how Lucie describes Tristan to readers, from her own mind’s conjurings::
- From debutante to matron, women had made a sport of being at least a little bit in love with Lord Ballentine. One half adored him for his rare masculine beauty, his silky auburn hair and perfect jawline and indecently soft mouth. The other half was drawn to the promise of depravity lurking beneath his even features: the dissolute edge to these soft lips and the knowing glint in his eyes that whispered Tell me your desires, your darkest ones, and none of it shall shock me. There was a black magic about a beautiful man who was easily intrigued and impossible to shake. Lady Henley now appeared drunk on this sinister brand of charm and was tumbling toward Tristan’s maw like a fly into a carnivorous plant.
In several ways, Lucie has not merely taken judgmental swipes at Tristan, but also Mabel. This will be Lucie’s M. O. on the steady, for complete strangers and even her own friends.
Lucie will literally scold Mabel and stomp off in disgust, but also for her own attractions to Tristan, even as he has been mostly a fly in the ointment to her when he could never get her to reciprocate a normal friendship. She made it so difficult to be her friend so he had to turn rank and become a jokester or a prank artist. She still holds him accountable on a rare moment of insult when he dipped the tips of her long golden locks in an ink well. He was a dearer friend to her brother, which was a later reason for him being inside Lucie’s childhood home.
We get a bit of this scene from Tristan’s POV, so we see how he has always seen her. She often causes him to think long ago of certain poems he was quite fond of, as he was always fond of her. Now he feels her constant judgment
, her belittlement
, and the way she has of looking at him now with a sense of disgust at his deplorable means of carrying out is life
, so openly sexual with women, of any walks of Life. He sees it as a playful banter, which he also does with her so very well. He knows the right buttons to push because she is so much older than everyone around her; she is reaching Spinsterhood. And spinster often hate Rakes like him, so he teases and becomes playful with her because he has known they have always been attracted or bonded in such a way.
Also, he knows Lucie fairly well, been there most of her life, he sees her for what she truly is, the fact that she denies herself the minimalist of pleasures. She denies herself even a simple right to find happiness and to reach out when it is there and grab it. Tristan enjoys taunting her to take a chance, and to possibly take a chance on him, maybe someday.
In 2020, we are holding the proverbial feet to the fire if you want to play in certain arenas where you may not have sensitivity to. And these types of missed mistakes are utterly shameful.
Let me begin with the biggest
dispute...taking a culture you might be in love with and adore, then misrepresenting it on several levels. I am not talking about only one single issue, I am meaning too many issues to name. It shouldn’t have been this way, able to pick apart, chapter by chapter, scene break by scene break where you have to take a mild pause when a certain country, its culture or its people are mentioned.
Something has occurred to light a fire for India under Evie Dunmore...and in some manner she felt compelled to bring it out in a story or a book she was writing. That is fine, and wonderful, and a pleasant diversion from other choices.
But, if not taken well in hand this choice to layer and weave your story within another country, its culture and people when it has a historical background of “colonialism” and “imperialism” where its very foundations were marginalized, misaligned, sometimes stolen and then enslaved. There was a portion of British rule in India, called the British Raj, 1857-1947, which is where Evie Dunmore’s story falls into.
This time period should never be romanticized or utilized as fodder in a romantic setting or backdrop. Nor should one partake of details inside of a culture, sacred and sensitive to many people today, and given to rich white Anglo-Saxon characters to be used as tools inside of a much larger story--especially a civil rights for women story. It’s traumatic and demoralizing, negating your larger story’s purpose.
Let me begin with low-bar, then move to high-bar offenses::
The smallest is caught in a conversation when Tristan is off to Ashedown Castle where his bed-ridden, consummately ill and depressed mother is kept in her personal chambers. There are medically prescribed "poisons" [laudanum] by her bedside, a cold bowl of soup she hasn't eaten from. He pulls back her heavy curtains to bring in some sunlight, and while at her bedside he begins to tell her a story about one of his commanders, a General Foster, and an Indian man who owned an elephant ride business.
A seemingly cute and sweet story, but as Tristan is rattling on, trying to make his Bedlam-bound mother smile or laugh, instead, she interrupts her son and calls Indian people “heathens
”--no rhyme, no reason. And even from a foggy-brain just-woken-up state as she succumbs to melancholia for her beloved first son's death, she remembers to be racist of a people her country has enslaved. Awesome.
Tristan never responds, in fact he backs away from the comment immediately. He never speaks ill or grossly about his time spent in India, about the culture or people. He will often lament about his time at war, how he fought in battles with his combat men. Tristan feels like he has absorbed India and the culture. Except, Tristan won’t stand up and reply or defend the very country he is appropriating.
Nor the very country he is almost attempting to escape to...he seems to be adamant he and his mother [hopefully with Lucie in tow as his new wife] can eventually escape his father’s, Rochester’s, clutches, and leave for India. He even has quite an open discussion with his faithful Indian servant, Avi, about where to go, which city to buy a house in, Delhi or Calcutta?
Once again, Evie Dunmore chooses to have Tristan's sole, and only
, focus be India. There are plenty of other well-distanced European countries to escape to. In fact, much of Tristan's youthful history was shrouded in a willingness to run off and catch a steamer to The Americas--he did that actual thing in his younger days, trying to find ways and means to live on his own money, not dependent on his father.
Evie Dunmore also writes what is supposed to be a "let's make Lucie happy
" scene, when she and Annabelle are in a slightly serious conversation. Especially about why, oh why...is Annabelle so god-damn happy with Montgomery [The Duke
from Bringing Down the Duke
], and certainly why she has settled so excellently within her new marriage.
Annabelle and Lucie are in discussion and to “cheer” Lucie up from increasing doldrums, Annabelle mentions there is a new Indian restaurant someplace quaint and reachable for them so they can have their Lady Brunch.
It’s a little of a two-fer here. Can you imagine...some ketchy Indian cafe for rich white Anglo-Saxon women? On the streets of Oxford, during a time of British rule over India? So they can partake of an appropriated culture for their cute Lady Brunch? I mean...wow...the sheer audacity to create this in a scene where it would shine briefly but invariably has been so easily overlooked by many.
The only representation Evie Dunmore has given of an Indian man, from India...is Tristan's manservant/valet, Avi.
There are several detailed conversations with Avi, mainly with Tristan, but they become mildly a “caricature” than a true person. Avi is weaved throughout the story as he helps and aides Tristan in dressing and keeping daily appointments, often becoming a pseudo-bodyguard.
But it is fundamentally clear...Tristan, and thereby Evie Dunmore, have no clue to who Avi genuinely can be. I think there was even a moment or two where Avi actually claims to love dressing and undressing Tristan, likes that he can serve a white British man like him. It is horrible how Avi is our only Indian representation and he is serving a white European male with some kind of pleasure
, while escaping his own country and possibly fearing returning w/Tristan should he set sail in the coming months.
While, yes, Avi is a Valet and they do rather put themselves at the very feet of the men they serve...the fact that it is a white British man who has fought to oppress Avi's own people, then he is kowtowing to serve him, giving compliments galore it seems. Comically portrayed to a level of “escaping the many women” as if all men of his culture have boat-loads of women fawning and flirting over them so he must escape them or bed them all.
I want to be horrified
...well, I am
, but I am also disappointed that Avi is, at times, better character in the book than some of the major players and yet he seems to get disservice in more ways than one.
And, lastly and yes, my biggest difficulty in swallowing problematic offenses is Tristan’s tattoo of a naked raven-haired woman [possibly an Indian], w/four arms, that covers his shoulder bullet hole--misrepresenting Lord Shiva
, comically called Lady Shiva
This is the biggest and the most disgusting travesty of all. Religion and religious prophets are precious to many and honestly do not need to be misrepresented nor should they be comically misappropriated in such a loud and public manner.
One has easily created a moment where it is brought to the forefront as a topical issue, especially the, “Does the woman in the tattoo have FOUR or TWO arms?
” There should have been another complicated, yet detailed tattoo that Tristan could have been given after war. Like a gun with carvings etched in the handle. Years he had served and fought battles. Or something from the military...like an emblem or such.
I had to go back and suss out how I had felt about the debut novel, and while I gave it a good rating, there was a lot to be upset over. Especially when a cover makes it appear as if this might be lighthearted. The book’s content was much more heavy-handed than its advertising purported.
I honestly do not believe Evie Dunmore had intentions to offend, it has something more to do with a combination of instances. A lot of “balls dropped”, if I feel like being honest.
This is also the fated sophomore slump. Now you have to prove your debut wasn’t an anomaly. It can happen once again.
One thing you have to realize if this feels kind of how everyone wants this to be--the final product
. The book publisher and Evie Dunmore feel pleased, so no way this manuscript goes back to the drawing board because there is too much here to overhaul.
Take a minute...decide whether you can digest the romance and the build-up to the happy [for now] ending while sidelining something far more important and real...systemic and palpable.
We need to do better. ALL OF US. Staying silent is as much compliance as if you said a modicum of dislike and gave the book a low rating.
This is 2020. We need to be well past this kind of watershed moment and on to better actions and responses.