If you scroll down this page, you’ll see that Miss Bates took part in a “Quote Challenge,” thanks to Willaful’s Three-Day Quote Challenge. Miss Bates opted to write mini-reviews based on her impressions of a romance novel’s opening line. If you follow Miss Bates on Twitter, you’ll also know she indulges in spinsterish bubble-bath romance reading every night (you can follow her musings under the hashtag #bathtubromreading). She loved the quote format and opportunity to be succinct (not too often, mind you) 😉 . Hashtag and quote review married and are ready to have babies. Thus, she’ll occasionally abandon herself to an opening-line mini-review of her bathtubromread. Her latest was Charlotte Lamb’s 1979 Love Is A Frenzy. Like most great romance novels, its opening line is simple and sublime:
She recognized him at once.
Beautiful. And mysterious. Who is she? What previous knowledge does she have of him allowing her to recognize him “at once”? And how clever of Lamb to use personal pronouns instead of the heroine and hero’s first name? Adding to the mystique. Working the reader’s curiosity, drawing her in without being coy, silly, or manipulative.
She is Rachel Austen, night-club singer, and he is Mark Hammond, wealthy, widowed businessman. Nicky Hammond, Mark’s son and sole heir, is head over heels in love with the older woman and Mark will do anything to save him from her clutches. Thus begins a compelling moral dance between Mark and his stereotypical view of women as gold-diggers and mercenary opportunists and Rachel’s ethical core, built of integrity, honesty, and strength. Mark throws everything at her: money, insults, power. He manipulates her career, bribes her with outlandish cheques, and snatches at her to press punishing kisses upon her – because Mark can’t fathom that her interest in Nicky is simple and pure: she likes him, she cares about him. He tests her over and over again, and she passes every time by showing him what’s right, what’s true, dignified, and compassionate.
Miss Bates has read quite a bit of Lamb and none have moved her as this one did. The prose was always sublime, but the characterization had something opaque to it. She’s thinking in particular of a novel like Temptation, with its angry young heroine and older man hero; or, Compulsion, with the tragedy of a lost baby, the heroine’s postpartum depression, and hero’s stoic silence. Brilliant all. But not endearing. Not like this one. Miss Bates thinks she felt for this Lamb novel unlike the others because neither heroine, especially the heroine, nor hero were broken. Their clashes were philosophical and borne of their morality, or amorality, in the hero’s case. Rachel is MissB’s favourite Lamb heroine because she’s thought about life and how she wants to treat people. She’s not an innocent, or a victim, or so hurt by the hero’s actions that she’s embittered, or enraged. She understands what she feels for him, but she won’t give him what he wants because her moral integrity is more important than her heart. Her virginity may be physical – this is an HP, after all – but it’s not the basis of her virtue. The hero too is sexy and, as the line that follows the opening says of him, “An absolute bastard,” but he’s given a sympathetic backstory that is neither melodramatic, nor so hidden it’s brought to light only in the HEA. His “bastardry” stems from the business milieu, an amoral, expedient, exploitative world that has eaten his heart and sense of right and wrong. Rachel’s “unbuyability” foils his sense of the world and returns him to a state of innocence when he blurts out that he loves her. As for what comes in between, dear reader, I’ll leave that up to you to discover.