My Valentine’s Recommendation : A romance with a dark heart

Image : Pixabay

Valentine’s Day is around the corner – well, around the corner and long the corridor a bit, but definitely within spitting distance – and that being the case, I’ll be absent from Word Shamble for a few days.

Now, I know many of you are cynical about the event, trussing a 3rd century Roman saint to selling chocolates and jewellery and overpriced flowers, pressurising lovers into expensive purchases to prove the depth of something as ephemeral as love.

You have a right to feel cynical. The heart shaped balloons and cutesy ‘wuv woo’ bears and cards, the way manufacturers package seemingly unrelated items in red just to sell them to men desperate to get themselves out of trouble … It’s capitalism run riot and it ain’t pretty.

May I suggest an alternative to this unpleasantness?

Those who’ve followed this blog a while will already know my attachment to certain books – every reader has them, those tomes that burrow into your psyche, often at a young age, and squat in your brains like benevolent worms, raising their heads and twitching their tales every now and then to make their presence felt.

For me, Precious Bane by Mary Webb is one such book.

Set in the Shropshire of the early nineteenth century, it focuses on Prue Sarn, cursed with a ‘precious bane’ (a hare lip) that seems to rule her out of marriage, out of happiness, that shapes her life, her personality and her destiny.

Yes, it’s terrifically romantic and melodramatic – there are love spinnings and sin eaters and wise men. There’s a fair amount of yearning, of chaste glances between Prue and the gentle, magnificently named weaver Kester Woodseaves.

There’s darkness too. Unfathomable lakes, moody landscapes, curses, folk magic, pain, humiliation, betrayal, death – lots of death.

But aside from the fabulous prose, here’s a wonderful thing about the book. Prue is not Disney Cinderella beautiful. She is outshone by her best friend, seen as ugly and shunned. But she is brave and loyal and decent and all of that makes her shine through as a character, means that she’s no wishy-washy heroine who gets a fit of the vapours when spoken to unkindly. She works the fields – she drives a sodding plough, for heaven’s sake – and even though she suffers greatly, she is nothing like a victim.

So, here’s my recommendation.

Leave the chocolates, leave the flowers (okay, buy the flowers – I am a florist after all!), leave the teddy bears (no, really LEAVE the bears) and buy a copy of Precious Bane instead.

It’s one of the few truly romantic novels I’ve ever read.

And if you doubt the quality of Webb’s writing because you’ve never heard of her, take a look here to see why The Guardian newspaper’s Eloise Millar thinks she’s better than Thomas Hardy.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. See you on the other side.

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10 thoughts on “My Valentine’s Recommendation : A romance with a dark heart

  1. Ah, and I thought you were allergic to reviews, Lynn, and yet here you are writing one that strongly recommends the novel it lauds! And too right about the pressure of Valentine’s Day—I see that Japanese women are right kicking back against giri choco on the 14th, the injunction to buy male associates chocolates in the expectation of a reciprocal arrangement a month later (just a cynical ploy by manufacturers). Emotional blackmail is a horrid thing, always.

    I’m reading Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Brontë, an unattractive figure by all accounts but fiercely intelligent, sensitive, creative and determined; yet despite her attributes little regarded by most of her contemporaries. Her banes? Short-sightedness, missing teeth, diminutive stature—but she did at least retain a few close friendships to the end of her extraordinary life

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    1. I’ve earmarked Harman’s biography of Charlotte Bronte for future reference, thanks for that Chris. Did you see the drama about the sisters a couple of years ago? Isuppose it felt a bit Catherine Cookson (no criticism on Cookson) – a bit ‘grim oop north’, cobblestones and consumption. But at least it did show them as difficult, independent, bloody minded women who were determined to make their way in the publishing world despite the prejudicial treatment of their gender. And don’t worry, I’m too scatterbrained to write book reviews regularly – I shall leave that to people much more talented at it, like yourself 🙂

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      1. The Harman is, for a doorstop of a book, a surprisingly easy read—but then she’s a novelist, isn’t she? Oddly, Charlotte’s Shirley is proving slow, and I’m still only a third through. It probably comes from it being character-led, with precious little action, but I shall persevere!

        Yes, I did see—and enjoyed—the Sally Wainwright Brontë drama, which I believe was fairly accurate where the “grim-oop-north” stereotype was concerned, though the siblings’ accent should have had more of an Irish tinge to it than was evident.

        Don’t do yourself down, Lynn, you write a mean review! But if it stops you writing fiction… 😁

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  2. Brilliant. What a wonderful post, and an excellent suggestion. I’m 100% behind you on pushing for books rather than bears as a present, be it Valentine or any other time.
    Lovely review, too. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Crispina. I shouldn’t say it as the event helps pay my wages, but just coming out of my Valentine’s induced haze, I do feel the day is a ridiculous nonsense, very wasteful and actually not genuinely romantic at all. Most of the blokes coming into our shop had an air of obligation about them rather than love and romance! And I adore books as presents too. Of course, I provide the buyer with a comprehensive list first … 🙂

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      1. I can imagine. 🙂 Books, first, always.
        And myself, I’m not a romantic, and haven’t inspirec anyone to give me Valentine presents. Except I received a single red rose delivered by the florist to my place of work … the day after Valentines (this was some 20 years ago). I was mystified. Thought it must be from an ex who’d bee trying to wheedle his way back in. But after a fortnight of a certain colleague chuckling whenever we chanced to meet … yea, well, we dated for less than a month. No, me and Valentines, never an item. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for the recommendation, Lynn — the book sounds wonderful! And I agree with Crispina: books rather than bears for Valentine’s day, or any other day, too.

    I know I’m the outlier, but I still love Valentine’s day. How can I not? A day all about expressing how much you love people? Plus chocolate! I’m on it! Yes, yes, I know: commercialization, pressure, expectations, etc. Pish posh, when have I ever cared about what the TV tells me to do, or anyone else for that matter? It helps that I don’t watch TV these days, but even when I did, I still loved Valentine’s Day; I just make it my own, celebrate how I like, and don’t listen to the hype. The last couple years I’ve made these delicious heart-shaped cookies to hand out at work and to friends, but alas, too super busy to do that this year… Not much V for me this year. 😦

    All that said, I can see how people who work in businesses that are affected by the hype (like florists) have a rough time of it. Hang tight, Lynn!

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    1. I love your idea of making biscuits for colleagues – that’s a genuinely caring thing to do, though. Some of the men coming into our shop seemed obliged, desperate not to get into trouble by ignoring the day, or already in trouble for forgetting until the evening! It was very busy and I’m glad it’s over.
      And I adore this book – still have the same copy I bought 30 years ago 🙂

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      1. I don’t envy you having to deal with losers like that. I say “losers” not because I think men are uniquely responsible for making Valentine’s Day work for the couple or because I think they’re obligated to buy certain things. I say it because if they’d actually been paying attention to what their partner likes and wants all this time — you know, holding up their half of the relationship — they wouldn’t be so flabbergasted about “suddenly” needing to do something and so confused about what to do. You know, because the two of them would have *communicated*, like people do when they have a good relationship. My guess is that these men’s partners *have* been communicating their expectations and hopes this whole time, and Loser Boys have been ignoring it until the last minute and feigning ignorance. For all they know, all she really wants is a hand-written love note and to hold hands while they eat at that seedy fish-and-chips place where they first met, or for him to make her pancakes for dinner and a big fudge sundae just the way she likes it, to eat at home while watching that movie that she loves and for him to pretend he really wants to watch it again. That’s real love, baby. ❤

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