Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Virgin Bore
If you are thinking of writing a novel with a character who moves to a country she has a) a distant familial connection to b) feels inexplicably drawn to or c) is involved in an archeological dig in and a) she starts having disturbing dreams or b) seeing weird visions or c) babbling in a foreign language or d) feeling a strange attraction to places such as a) old churches b) old manor houses or c) ruins and then she a) meets a stranger who she is powerfully drawn too b) meets someone who seems to know more about her than they should while a) her husband is being really difficult or b) somehow seemed wrong for her from the start, and it turns out she is the reincarnation of a) a distant relative b) someone totally random or d) an historical figure, do us all a favor and burn the manuscript, bury it, and salt the earth.
Because it's been done a zillion times, and the zillionth-and-one iteration, Tracy Chevalier's The Virgin Blue has only one new twist on the plot: main character Ella Turner has psoriasis, just like her ancestor Isabelle du Moulin! Two women, linked inexplicably by the same rash!
I liked Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures so much that I thought I'd give Virgin Blue a shot, but it's pretty bad. It nails all of the expected cliches- Ella moves with her architect husband to southern France, where her family has some history, starts digging around in genealogical trees to while away the time, and boom - meets mysterious yet compelling Jean-Paul, having weird visions and disturbing dreams, and remembering snatches of French even though she barely speaks the language. Et voila, soon Ella is tearing through local libraries and wandering through ruins trying to find out more about Isabella, chucks her husband (who never really understood her), and is having convenient flashbacks.
If you're, say, trapped in an airport desperate for a quick read and the only other options are the latest political ghost-written tripe and Going Rogue, you could do worse- but Virgin Blue is neither unique, strongly written, or compelling enough to give it sticking power.