Sunday, April 10, 2005

A little Nectar

Just finished Jane Guill's debut novel, Nectar from a Stone (S&S Touchtone, $15). I thoroughly enjoyed it. Guill has a deft touch with dialogue, a delightfully unexpected dry wit, and a sensualist's approach to atmosphere and setting.

As a reader of romance, I would have liked to see more of how Gwydion and Elise fell in love. It's not satisfying just to be told that they had lots of interesting conversations -- I wanted to eavesdrop on those conversations. Guill really does a good job with dialogue elsewhere, which is why I can't understand why she shies away from showing the relationship between these two characters through their extended conversations (especially since this is how they fell in love, because the relationship is chaste). The author built enough credibility with me as a reader before the falling in love phase of the book that I believe Gwydion and Elise did, but it still chafes that it wasn't shown. I would have sacrificed a few of the scenes that develop the characters of Elise's husband and Sir Nicholas, to have gotten the space to develop Gwydion's character further and to explore his relationship to Elise.

That said, these missing elements really didn't interfere with my enjoyment of Nectar from a Stone as a whole. I was more aware of the lack of narrative time Gwydion and Elise got as a couple after I finished reading, perhaps because the novel ends very much as a romance novel would, with a stereotypically happy ending. I wonder why -- not why the book ended well (I WANTED that), but why this particular scene was chosen as the final one. Somehow it doesn't fit, though I'm not exactly sure what my discomfort is with it -- perhaps that I've read many scenes like it in historical romances and I expected different from the ending of a novel that does not otherwise conform to generic rules?

I hope Jane Guill is working on her second novel right now -- I'm so looking forward to reading more from her. She crafts beautiful sentences, and weaves the details of time and place lightly, making them an integral part of the narrative but not an obvious one. A pet peeve of mine with historical novels is the author's desire to display the breadth and wealth of their research by adding paragraphs better suited to scholarly books. There's none of that blatant display of scholarship here, just well-placed, unobstrusive use of details. (My favorite is when Elise places one of her dresses under her mattress so that it will get pressed while she sleeps.)

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