Miss Bates embarked on her reading of Ruthie Knox’s “two-book bundle” of a previously serialized novel with trepidation. Though there was much she liked about hero Roman Díaz and heroine Ashley Bowman’s story, because there is much she’s always liked about Knox’s narratives, her fears, which lay in the words “two-book” and “serialized,” were realized. Don’t misunderstand, since Knox’s début, Ride With Me, her stories have consistently been worth reading and thinking about. It is no different for Roman Holiday: the same focus on characterization, considered psychology, snappy dialogue, and good, good writing overall. Moreover, what Knox has been trying to accomplish with the Camelot series and now its offshoot, Roman Holiday, is most interesting. It is, when done well, something that the romance genre excels at: the creation of a roman-fleuve, a novel “stream, or cycle,” literally translated “river,” that harkens to the 19th century and, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica definition, is “a series of novels, each one complete in itself, that deals with one central character, an era of national life, or successive generations of a family.” The romance series never sounded so good! ;-) In Roman Holiday, Knox serialized a novel, as well as creating one more volume in her Camelot world, albeit a further afield one. She linked it to a country, a history of both race relations and the American thorn, Cuba, a community of friends and family, a quest-journey, and a coming-of-age narrative. Biting off more than she can chew? Definitely, but she had the scope and temerity to attempt and more power to her: the level of her success, however, is up to the individual reader. Be warned that here Miss Bates writes only a loose response to Roman Holiday; if you’re looking for a full-fledged summary and review … sorry. The length of the novel served as anti-dote to the length of the review, by Miss Bates’ standards anyway.
One would like to think that the serialized format of Roman Holiday would be conducive to the ambition of the project … but Knox set out, Miss Bates assumes, primarily to write a romance. The romance novel requires a focus on the main couple, not predominantly their hang-ups, neuroses, tragic pasts, interconnected lives of family, friends, all relationships as fraught with tension, unresolved and dominant, as what they’re building with each other. (This is particularly problematic for the heroine, Ashley Bowman, who is immature, petulant, weak, and really needs to learn to use cutlery.) Sad to say, after the cross-country journey (from the Florida Keys to Wisconsin), the travel disasters and encounters, hangers-on and memories and nostalgia, the romance suffers. On a basic reader-gut level, with so much going on, and a secondary romance (a pretty good one, Miss Bates might add) Roman Holiday, while containing some wonderful moments, pithy dialogue, and intense love scenes … well, in the end, dragged. There was too much going on and, strangely, not quite enough.
Miss Bates thought that, juggling simultaneous threads, Knox wanted to create a sweeping tale, a panorama of America and a couple struggling to come to terms with their pasts and find a way of creating something new for the future, that, well, it was a mountain out of a molehill. Moreover, Knox’s wonderfully pithy humour was lost along the way; by the end of the behemothic novel, Miss Bates thought that some authorial finger-wagging was happening. You know that a narrative is in trouble when the narrative voice turns to the second person ;-) and that happened a lot by near-end of Roman Holiday. Miss Bates, in the meanwhile, wanted the heroine to grow up and get on with it. The prose and consideration of her dilemmas did not actually sustain what her dilemmas were. Hero Roman was lovely: he’d actually suffered AND risen above it in an admirable, courageous way, with odds so much more against him than the heroine’s. Love Roman. The heroine didn’t deserve him … but hey, it’s romance and she got him anyway. To give credit where it’s due, Ashley did some growing up, took responsibility, and rose to the Roman occasion. It’s only that by the epilogue heroine-Ashley got everything she wanted and more; and Roman, well, he’s still waiting for “everything.” Knox certainly does like to privilege her heroine’s life over the hero’s; other than the utterly loveable Cath Talarico from About Last Night, Miss Bates, conservative spinster that she pretends to be, always roots for Knox’s heroes.
Knox is always worth reading and that is as much for Roman Holiday as it is any of her works: even the experiments are interesting. Nevertheless, if it wasn’t for Roman, there would not have been any holiday for MissB reading this novel; it is, like its heroine, “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Ruthie Knox’s Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventure has been available from Loveswept since March 25th, in the usual formats in the usual places.
Miss Bates is indebted to Loveswept (Random House) for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
What do you think of the serialized romance novel? Would you read one? Buy and read one in installments or, like Miss Bates, wait until it’s published in its entirety?