This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Can you keep a 'Secret'? A review of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

There is no character named Victoria in this novel.

Too bad.

If there was a character named Victoria here, I'd have the opportunity to make one of those "Vickie's Secrets" plays on the title. I don't know, maybe I could say, 'Victoria's secret is out and her favorite color really is pink.' Or, 'Vickie might peddle satin and lace at America's popular purveyor of tacky lingerie but her heart belongs to espionage.' Perhaps, 'Victoria, dear, some advice just in case a Pink Carnation movie is ever made: DO NOT do your own costuming!'

All this allusion to VS would not be completely out of left field, for Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation has some, ahem, provocative moments. Beware, there are some such lingering scenes. So you're happily plowing through the novel and then - Whoa, baby!- there's a truly intimate interlude. A few times.

Parents, teachers, readers inclined to blush easily - just wanted to let you know.

With all that said allow me to continue about this contagiously entertaining novel. It begins all innocence and fun scene-setting in England and France, a sweet little tale apparently written on the side by a Harvard law student, very girlie. And it pretty much stays that way throughout the book save for those handful of pages previously discussed. There are few, if any, swears in this novel, or any other sort of verbal vulgarity. This is not a scary book - suspenseful at times, as befits a novel of espionage - but none of the grotesque elements so often found in pop culture today. And, now that I've mentioned the spy business, I should clarify that this is the cartoon version, not at all to be taken seriously, fun for it's ridiculousness. This playful novel could not, after all, be the book it is if it took itself seriously.

It is light on true espionage, heavy on romance, highly imaginative - how did Willig come up with such a detailed floor plan for Edouard's house? - and populated with characters which are familiar and original at the same time. Reading it you feel you've met them before, in a '40s film or somewhere, but haven't had the pleasure of their company for a few years as most writers seem to take a more prurient and/or darker slant with their stars and supporting players. It's refreshing.

Basically, the main character, Amy, decides in Regency England that she wants to join an espionage ring in France. In another plotline, we have Eloise, a modern-day scholar who is studying Amy's diaries which form the entree into Amy's world.

The writing is of the effervescent ginger ale variety in its sweetness and levity, risque sections notwithstanding. The book doesn't masquerade as more literary than it is, but it is intelligent fluff.

So, decide if you're more a G, PG or R rated reader, and proceed from there. If you read it, enjoy, if not, there's always many more books on the shelf.

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