I was devouring this book. Devouring it. I was astonished at how much better the plot of this book was, how much she’d grown as a writer.
And then commenter Sushi pointed out that it’s Poldark.
E.L. James just rewrote Poldark.
- Maxim is the only male relative of the Earl of Trevethick. Ross is the only male relative of the Master of Trenwith.
- The Earldom includes an estate in Cornwall. Trenwith includes ownership of an estate in Cornwall.
- Maxim is captivated by his young housekeeper who has escaped an abusive past. Ross is captivated by his young housekeeper who has escaped an abusive past.
- Maxim’s captivating young housekeeper has an uncanny talent at the piano. Ross’s captivating young housekeeper has an uncanny talent for singing.
- Maxim’s brother and closest male relative married Maxim’s first love and childhood best friend. Ross’s cousin and closest male relative married Ross’s first love and childhood best friend.
- Maxim stands to inherit the Earldom until Caroline reveals she’s pregnant with her late husband’s heir (spoiler alert). Ross stands to inherit Trenwith until Elizabeth produces an heir before her husband dies.
And for extra fuckery? Ross Poldark owns mines in Cornwall. Trevethick is the real-life name of a famous Cornish mining engineer.
I shit you not. She did it again. She took someone else’s work and she did it again.
Now, lest you go, “Oh, well, it’s like when people remake Jane Austen novels,” Winston Graham’s final Poldark novel came out in 2002. We’re not talking, oh, this is so old and out of copyright and nobody alive even owns it anymore. This is quite literally Fifty Shades of Twilight all over again. And the poor dude can’t fight her because he’s dead.
So, yesterday we didn’t see much of the heroine aside from her “Go Dog Go!” impersonation. Now, she opens chapter two.
In third person, present tense.
I don’t have an issue with tense hopping. I really do not. But third person present is so clunky. Not just from my own personal position where I could never write in it. So many readers hate first person present tense, but third person present is nearly unthinkable. It would take a writer of immense technical skill to pull it off and…E.L. James isn’t exactly lauded for her grasp of flowing prose. No matter how gripping this story is, the third person POV comes off as omniscient narration:
In spite of the weather, she’s feeling a sense of achievement because she’s survived the cramped and crowded train journey without her usual anxiety. She’s beginning to understand that this is what London is like.
It’s also frustrating because we know from the back cover copy that she has a Big Secret, and that you can’t keep a Big Secret when you’re inside someone’s head in first person. So, right off the bat it feels like a choice made as a lazy cop-out.
Alessia, our heroine, is on her way to her cleaning job, a big, fancy apartment she’s taken over from her coworker, Krystyna. And what’s a morning commute without some subtle misogyny and a confusing slip into past perfect, express route, no local?
That morning Alessia had been lucky enough to find a seat on the train, but the woman beside her had spent much of the journey shrieking into her phone about her unsuccessful date the night before. Alessia had ignored her and read the free newspaper to improve her English, but she’d wished she could listen to music through headphones and not this woman’s loud whining.
What’s frustrating about this is that it shows how much smoother and more immersive Alessia’s POV could be if it were just written in past tense. Plus, Alessia focuses on her past a lot; she’s an immigrant far from home, without her family. Writing her in past tense while writing Maxim in first person present tense due to his self-centered lifestyle and unchecked id would have been a brilliant move. This is a real missed opportunity.
Oh, and the part where if another woman is in a scene with the heroine, she must be obnoxious. That could have been changed, as well.
Alessia also loves to play the piano, and she has synesthesia, which is a very cool character detail. She sees music in colors. She also hasn’t played in a long time, so she’s psyched that there’s a piano in Maxim’s apartment.
For a few hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, this wonderful place with its large airy rooms, dark wooden floors, and baby grand piano is all hers.
I just said yesterday that I wasn’t going to be happy if dailies didn’t come every day and now I choose to interpret this line as a personal attack.
When Alessia goes into the apartment, she’s afraid someone might be home (he is), and, like José’s epic “Dios Mio!” before, she thinks:
No. “Good.” Think in English.
So, Alessia is Albanian. Prepare for numerous exclamations in Albanian. Which I don’t remember from the widely-published excerpt. Were they…not wanting people to know she was an immigrant? That’s kind of…
Looking at Maxim through Alessia’s eyes before she’s met him, she thinks he’s a slob. She dresses for cleaning in a housecoat and blue headscarf–this detail will be important later. Then, the scene from the famous excerpt happens:
Fast asleep facedown and sprawled naked across the large bed. She stands, shocked and fascinated at once, her feet rooted to the wooden floor as she stares. He’s stretched across the length of the bed, tangled in his duvet but naked…very naked.
How, pray, can one be “a little” naked?
But I deconstructed this section on Twitter already. And yes, they did cut all the Albanian out of the first public excerpt. I find that extremely sketchy.
His back is sun-kissed with a tan that fades as his hips narrow to dimples and to a pale, taut backside.
Lakuriq, by the way, is Albanian for nude.
I also just learned that Zot is Albanian for God, and that my favorite candy is no shit called “Gods!” in Albanian.
So, he kind of wakes up but then he goes back to sleep and she runs off to do laundry and hide until he hopefully leaves or she can sneak out without interacting with him. She’s not so much overcome with lust for his gorgeous “backside” as she continues to call it (backside is gonna become the “down there” of this book. I can feel it) as she is disappointed that she won’t get a chance to play the piano.
Okay, fine, she also can’t help but think of this guy, the first naked man she’s ever seen. But that leads to other thoughts, about another guy she’s afraid of. So, Alessia isn’t just afraid of getting fired. It’s directly stated that she’s uneasy around men, too, and he’s her only male client.
He does eventually leave without actually seeing her, so he thinks she’s Krystyna. There’s a mention of finding a “customary” condom in the pocket of his jeans, and the staggering number of condoms she finds in his wastebasket:
She tries to avoid looking at the used condoms as she dumps the contents into a black plastic trash bag. It was a shock the first time she did this, and it’s still a shock now. How can one man use so many?
How…how many condoms are we talking here? His “daily” comes every other day to ruin my life. If he brings home a woman every night, how many condoms is he running through? They must be switching out V to A, if you catch my drift. I mean, obviously you’re going to switch out A to V, but I bet he’s doing the reverse, as well.
Hey, look. A hero who actually uses condoms.
Alessia moves through the rest of the apartment, cleaning, dusting, and polishing, but avoiding the one room she’s not allowed to enter. Fleetingly, she wonders what’s behind the closed door,
Yes. He is kinky. I haven’t gotten to the part where that’s his sex room yet, but at least she doesn’t have to clean it or, presumably, the butt plugs. I mean, I only guess that he’s got a sex room based on the fact that he ties someone up later.
Once her cleaning is done, Alessia sits down and plays the piano for the first time since she went on the run or whatever, and it’s a good moment for her. And then:
Gently, she pushes down the keys, sounding an E-minor chord. The sound rings clear and strong, a bold and verdant green, the color of the Mister’s eyes, and Alessia’s heart fills with hope.
So, now we know the title of the book comes from Alessia’s label for Maxim. And they said the name of the thing in the thing!
Even though Alessia is the heroine of the book, that’s all the time she gets for now. We cut to Maxim walking up to his brother’s house, which he now owns and Caroline lives in. It, too, overlooks the Thames.
A better title for this book would have been, The Reflection from the Thames. It would have sounded like. Suspensefulish.
The butler greets Maxim with a “Lord Trevethick,” and asks to speak to Caroline. And she’s upstairs, gazing out a window crying. Oh, and she’s gazing out at the Thames, which is again mentioned as being viewable from the house.
Caroline wants to know whey he hasn’t called her, and even though he doesn’t tell her, she knows he’s been with other women. She calls him a whore and apparently has a whole catalog of insults about his sexual pursuits that she uses a lot. He notes that she still slept with him, though.
Besides being pissed off that Maxim has too much sex with people who aren’t her, Caroline wants to know if it’s true that her husband left her penniless. When she finds out that the will named Maxim sole heir, she’s super upset.
“I loved him,” she says, her voice small and quiet, like a child’s.
“I know. We both did.” Though I know she also loved Kit’s title and his wealth.
Okay. Here is where I’m starting to get nervous. Ever since the text messages, I’ve thought maybe Caroline was being set up to be TEH EVOL BLOND, and with Maxim thinking stuff like this, I’m getting more and more concerned that James is going to fall back on old patterns.
Caroline is like, you shan’t cast me out into the streets! You mustn’t! Okay, not really, but she does ask if he’s going to evict her from the house. I’m still not 100% sure this isn’t a Regency romance rewritten as a contemporary romantic suspense or whatever this genre is.
Anyway, at one point in the Caroline scene, Maxim remembers seeing Alessia that morning. But he doesn’t think it’s Alessia. He, no shit, no foolin’, thinks he saw the Virgin Mary:
[…] recalling a fragment from a dream I had last night–or was it this morning? A young woman, an angel? Possibly the Virgin Mary or a nun in blue standing my bedroom doorway watching over me as I slept?
Then, Caroline just up and announces that she might be pregnant.
“Kit. Not you. You’re too bloody careful.”
Also, they only just fucked a few days before. She wouldn’t even know by then. So, the baby has to be Kit’s. But it’s weird that Caroline says he’s careful like it’s a bad thing. Was she wanting to get knocked up by him or something? And if he’s constantly having tons of near-anonymous sex, why would she think being careful was negative?
But what does this pregnancy mean? Kit might indeed have an heir to the title of Earl. And he doesn’t know how to feel about that, because now that he’s got the title, he kind of wants to keep it.
My impression so far: I’m still reading it. And I’m still invested in the story. It’s interesting and it hooks you right away. I’m just concerned about how quickly the small incidences of misogyny are starting to snowball, the way they did in Fifty Shades of Grey, and I’m concerned about the way Caroline’s character is evolving. Still, while the writing is bad and some stuff is eye-roll worthy, it’s not a bad book.
Note on the above: Now that Sush pointed out that this is a Poldark rip off? Fuck this book, let’s shred it to pieces.