Monday, September 3, 2007

The Marriage Bed

Review for The Marriage Bed by Laura Lee Guhrke:

The Marriage Bed is a strange novel; it’s well-written, but I didn’t like it. John, Lord Hammond, married 17-year-old Viola for her money. She’d fallen in love with him, and was heartbroken when she realized he was a fortune-hunter. Despite a short period of happiness together, the two turned away from each other when Viola learned this, and became totally estranged for 8 years. But then John’s cousin dies, leaving him to continue the line of the viscountcy. He tracks Viola down and lets her know he needs a legitimate heir. Though Viola hates him over the course of the novel John charms and woos and seduces her into falling in love once again.

I felt bad for Viola most of the time. She had been lied to and used, then rejected and publicly humiliated by John’s many affairs. Nevertheless, she can’t help but fall in love with him. She tries to be cold, but is too sweet and vulnerable to resist.

It’s hard to like John. He’s seriously charming, and funny, and as Viola says, he’s a “heartbreaker.” He attracts women with his humor and thoughtfulness, and they inevitably fall in love with him. But when he grows bored, he leaves them at the drop of a dime. He is, at his core, heartless—he refuses to recognize that these women (his wife and mistresses) are in love with him, and is incapable of love himself. Obviously, he changes by the end. But the change comes late in the book, which is part of what makes the novel so strange (and unsuccessful).

Being unable to love a woman is the worst crime a romance novel hero can commit. I say this with only a little bit of tongue-in-cheek. We’d rather have a kidnapping philanderer like Sebastian in Devil in Winter, or a former criminal, prostitute, grave-robber and blackmailer, like Derek of Dreaming of You. As long as they love their women, we’ll forgive them anything. But it’s hard to read a book where the hero isn’t in love until the very end, and it’s hard to watch Viola give in time and time again while getting nothing in return.

This romance novel is not a woman’s fantasy. So why the hell would you want to read it? Granted, it’s by Guhrke, who apparently couldn’t write poorly if she tried. But the story is unsatisfying and the characters unsuccessful, so even though I was interested while reading, I give this a C.

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