Sunday, November 23, 2008

"She sits stiffly on the seat of the cart, her whole self held in against the tumult of the city."

I started Gerri Brightwell's The Dark Lantern only remembering I had seen it on another blog. I couldn't remember what the review said but I was too lazy to look it up. After getting through a few dozen pages of the book, I went back to find that review -- from Katherine at A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore ... -- and I almost completely agreed with her estimation of the book.

The novel begins by telling the story of a housemaid in 1893, starting a new job in London after leaving her position in the country. She gets the job by lying about her past and isn't sure that this new job was worth it. Then we start reading about Mina, the daughter-in-law of the house's owner, who happens to be bedridden due to a seizure, so that Mina is responsible for running the household. We know that Mina also has a secret past and has chosen Jane as the maid because she hopes she can have someone that she can control in the house. Besides these stories, we also get the story of Mina's husband and his expertise in anthropometry -- the use of body measurements as a way of identifying criminals. And don't worry, there are a few more story lines thrown in for good measure.

This book seems to have been written without a lot of direction. If one or maybe two of these plot lines had been chosen and had been fleshed out, this would have been a much more satisfying book. The writing wasn't bad except for the tacky and gratuitous sex scenes and sexual references. I can't stand when a writer puts in even mildly graphic sex that does nothing to advance the plot of the story. It cheapens the story and honestly is never written very well. Another of my book pet peeves is in evidence in this book as "the dark lantern" has only a brief mention and has nothing to do with the plot of the story. I'm tired of book titles that are pulled out of a random sentence of the book but that ultimately mean nothing.

My last gripe with reading this book has nothing to do with the author or her story. I have just decided that I really don't like reading about Victorian servants. They are always in the worst conditions. They are shifty, dishonest and loutish. They are treated like animals and yet one is never sure that they deserve much more. I can't imagine that this was the way it was in the majority of situations and yet these are the only type of situations and positions we ever read about. It's tiresome and I want a break from this sort of negative stereotyping.

I didn't mean to use this post as a rant but this book just made me a bit cranky! There was nothing terrible or unreadable about this novel and I would grudgingly recommend it to someone looking for a frivolous Victorian soap-operatic thriller (did I just totally make up that adjective?).

Glad to have clean air and no servants,

Buy The Dark Lantern on Amazon or find it at your local library.

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