I haven't been reading much of anything these days, but I do keep opening up the copy of Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale that lives in my purse whenever I find myself sitting around waiting for something. (Hmm. Looking over my calendar, it would seem that I sit in waiting rooms waiting for various children to come out of appointments two to three hours a week. I guess I have been reading. Just one book, over and over, and not really from front to back.)
It's been weird, because I've been doing this while the whole Cassie Edwards THING has been going on. Read some pilfered passages online, bang my head on the desk, hop in the car, read some great passages in the waiting room. Quite the dichotomy, this romance genre.
Which Laura Kinsale is my favorite? Generally, the one I'm reading at that moment. Prince of Midnight: A swashbuckling masked hero with vertigo meets up with a young girl who needs him to act as her avenger. A swashbuckler with vertigo? LOVE IT. Midsummer's Moon: A hero who's desperately afraid of heights falls for an inventress who climbs to the top of roofs to examine weather vanes and who desperately wants to fly. LOVE IT. I could go on and on. But today it's all about Flowers from the Storm.
Forget for a sec that this is a Romance, with breasts and sex and dukes and stuff. How about just reading it as a book? This is why I love Laura Kinsale.
(Well, not her as a person or an online personna, just her as the creator of these books I love so well. Her as the crafter of a phrase. Cause I don't know her personally, so I can't say if I love her. There, now I've defined my fannish behavior appropriately, and can move on to the blogging.)
There are so many things that I love in this novel, but others have pointed them out before. The way the author demonstrates the hero's inability to understand language or to speak while incarcerated in an asylum after his stroke:
He wanted to say "don't go," and instead it emerged, "No...no."
She gave a little sigh and started to stand up; he realized she was leaving and shook his head violently. Don't! Stay here, don't leave yet, not now!
"No, no, no, no," was what he heard himself uttering, and cut it off, tilting his head back and yanking at the bonds in his wrath.
"Peasdon sethee! Clietcliet!" She put her forefinger up to her face, the tip just below her nose.
He gazed at her. It meant something, that gesture; he knew it meant something, but he couldn't think what....
"Weebwell, "she whispered. "Vreethin wilvee well."
Wilv well. Will well.
Vreething will well.
Everything will well.
He hadn't really comprehended it; it came after his mind seemed to sift down through the sounds, settling finally on an intuition.
But it was something, anyway. It was something to keep as she turned away and took the candle and the paper. One small glass ball to float when he was drowning; she thought everything would be all right, and he'd almost understood her when she said it.*
Readers have already spoken about how well Kinsale deconstructs language in this novel; she turns it almost into poetry at times. But that's not truly why I love the book.
There's setting a scene. The introduction of the Duke of Jervaulx on page one has been commented on before as well:
He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate. Five years ago, the Honorable Miss Lacy-Grey had verifiably swooned on the occasion of his requesting her hand for a country dance--an example of that category of incidents which one's friends found endlessly amusing and became fond of recalling ad nauseam in their cups. The circulating quip had been that a marriage proposal would have crippled the girl for life, and that an offer of a baser sort killed her on the spot.
Since Christian lay now with his head pillowed in the smooth curve of her back, his fingers indolently sliding between her stocking and the skin just above a blue-and-yellow garter, he had to assume his friends had been slightly out in their predictions. She seemed perfectly alive to him.**
Maddy, the Quaker heroine also has a perfect introduction, bustling about in her small home where the parlor bell doesn't work, commenting to her father in mid tirade, "A duke can scarcely be supposed to care seriously for such matters--the square is above thy left hand--as must be perfectly clear when his integration has not been prepared for the past week."*** Gently done, we know her father is blind, she's easily offended but efficient, and that they are certainly not noblity.
The Duchess de Marly, I already wrote about in an earlier SBD post. I love how she's so cranky, so stubborn, and so respected by her wayward nephew, Christian. How Maddy believes that she will one day be just as cantankerous as the Duchess, and how we know that Christian will love her when she's mild or when she's fierce, just the same.
The speech at the Quaker meeting house at the end, others have written about. It's Christian's last chance to bring Maddy back to him and to his disordered state, to make him a better person and to convince her to leave behind her personal lie that she is nothing but a meek Quaker. When indeed she knows she can make him bow down to her. "The Devil's Gift."
But all of that is still not what makes this my favorite Kinsale book. (Although I admit to being particularly in awe of the introduction of Every Character. Durham with the dogs. Fane in his military oblivion. Gill in his wide hat. Eydie swooning on the stairs.)
What makes this my favorite Romance is the lack of kisses.
What makes this my favorite Romance is the drama of the sex when it shows up, and the lack of it.
Laura Kinsale manages to get down on paper the very essence of mute longing. Of a need to touch that is enormous. The tension is crafted so well, that by the time a sex scene finally shows up, the reader doesn't even need the full description. Just a view into the wanting is enough.
There isn't a passage I can pull out and point to -- there are bits and pieces scattered throughout the book. But I love when Jervaulx leans into her at the top of the stairs when the thunder has caused her to drop the candle. No kissing. No dialogue. Just him holding her and breathing into her hair. I love when Jervaulx can sleep in his own bed again only because he knows that Maddy is in the dressing room. I love when Jervaulx unbraids her hair the morning after their marriage. I love when Christian prays to god and she walks in the room to rescue him from himself.
All those bits, a glance over the table, a moment on the stairs, and it's Romance.
And good writing.
OK, OK. The sex is good too. Fine.
All quotes from the Avon Books reprint edition (with the mansion on the cover)
Flowers from the Storm, copyright 1992 Amanda Moor Jay
**Prologue, page 1
***Chapter One, p. 7