Sunday, July 15, 2012

Don't be fooled! This is only the first part of the tale!

2.5 out of 5 stars

You're telling me I went through all that and at the end, Wallis and Edward have only just met? Excuse me? I thought this was "A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor," not "The First Novel of How Wallis Simpson Grew Up, Married and Divorced, and Then, Two or Three Books Down the Road, Became the Duchess of Windsor." Grrr. Yes, I am disappointed. I figured the book would focus a little bit on Wally's childhood, devote a bit more to her first two marriages, but spend the bulk of the book on the courtship and romance between her and Edward. Instead I find myself slogging through pages and pages of Wallis's life without really getting to know her as a character, beyond the fact she was proud of her lineage and struggled throughout her life with poverty (stuff I knew from already from biographies). And when I reached the end of the novel, I find that Wallis has only just met the prince and, thanks to reports by other reviewers, that their story will continue in a sequel. Talk about bait and switch!

Don't get me wrong, the writing is well done: it keeps you involved in the story, the characters are well-drawn, and the dialogue is realistic. What annoyed me was how the characters were drawn, in particular Wallis. I get it: This is an historical fiction novel written by a romance novelist, but this was not the Wallis I expected. I was looking for a warmer side to the “cold fish” represented in history; I was not expecting a perpetual victim, a woman who resignedly accepts the abuse heaped upon her as being her due because she wasn't a “real” woman (according to the set up provided by Dean, which I'll get into later). I was not expecting, nor did it seem realistic, a Wallis who was simply looking for her Prince Charming and sighed with unhappiness every time someone else found their perfect man. Ick.

There are other issues with the novel. The first is Dean's habit of repetition, which can take a few different forms. The first is in her descriptions of Wallis: “her greyhound sleek body,” “her trim, athletic frame,” “her lithe body,” “her boyish, small breasted figure.” Alright, enough already, we get that she looks like a boy! Although it does go a long way towards explaining why the gay Prince Edward was attracted to her. Not only does he get a woman who looks very little like a woman, because of her sexual deformities (at least according to Dean), he doesn't have to deal with her nasty female nether regions, the thought or sight of which terrifies gay men. For that matter, vaginae terrify many straight men as well. What's up with that? Ooh, I think I'm digressing.... Back on point: Dean's repetition. She also has a tendency to use the “As you know, Bob” method (see the wonderful blog entry by Susan Higginbotham for an explanation: Or, should I say, overuse; it seemed like every time I turned around, I was being introduced to information I was already well aware of. It's not as if the novel is that long or that convoluted, and while I admit readily that my memory is horrible, I think I can keep up with the fact that Corinne is married to a man named Henry Mustin or Pamela's friend Lily sculpted a bronze bust of Edward and was allowed to call him David. And I'm pretty sure other readers can do the same.

Lastly, and once again I realize this is an historical fiction novel, which means liberties can be taken with the historical record (as long those changes are pointed out/explained by the author at some point), but it just seems that what's left out or changed is... silly. Especially when it comes to the later parts of the book, where meetings or interactions have been left out. Why? Wouldn't they add to the story? I mean, Wallis and Thelma Furness became friends in 1930, before the dinner party Thelma and Prince Edward attended where Wallis met the prince for the first time, yet Dean has Wallis angling to become Thelma's friend after said party. Again I have to ask why; wouldn't them knowing each other beforehand deepen the connection Dean's trying to set up? And Dean left out completely Wallis's court presentation. Once again, why? After all, Wallis struggled and stressed over that as she tried to get the paperwork from her divorce in order in time and only managing to do so in the nick of time (and that only because she played fast and loose with the law). Wouldn't that whole scene have added to the Wallis character Dean has created, showing just how eager she was to meet the prince and possibly dance with him? Then again, I can see why other bits have been left out, those about Wallis and her many lovers, because they don't mesh with the vision Dean has created of Wallis, that of a frustrated virginal woman, who's simply looking for true love; a victim of poor choices and poor lovers/husbands. Not to mention a Wallis who, instead of being frigid as she was called by her contemporaries, had a legitimate reason for not engaging in typical sexual intercourse. According to Dean, Wallis suffered from a medical condition called a DSD (disorder of sex development) which would explain her rather masculine features and the hints she supposedly gave about her sexual activities, or lack thereof, with Win Spencer and Ernest Simpson. Now, Dean herself said that this was only a theory of hers, based on her research, but that, if it were true, it would explain a lot about Wallis. I don't have a problem with this; it's theoretically possible, though it doesn't jive with what I've read about Wallis. But it's certainly a unique diagnosis.

Bottom line? Like the blurb on the back cover states, the novel mixes fact with fiction (with more emphasis on fiction, I believe) to create an engaging novel, and although the book is technically well-written, even with its faults, I just can't rate it any higher, for the mere fact that I was sold a bill of goods upon which the book didn't deliver. Nowhere did the novel state that this was only the first book in the tale of Wallis and I feel rather ripped-off that, if I wish to continue with the tale Dean has created, I have to wait until the sequel comes out. That's not what I signed up for when I got this book.

Read July 9-14, 2012
Originally reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program July 15, 2012

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