I like bad girls.
I'm not talking about the whiny brats, the passive-aggressive victims, and the casually cruel. I'm talking about those women who don't conform to society's expectations and who use every resource they have to thrive. The sl*ts, the b*tches, the fighters and the survivors. Those are the bad girls I like.
You might like a few of them yourself. Historical figures like Elizabeth Tudor and Cleopatra the Great were both bad girls of that mold; if they hadn't been, they'd have been murdered young and we'd have never heard of either of them. Instead, they both schemed, manipulated and even killed to become great queens.
There are beloved fictional bad girls too. Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind is probably the most infamous. Scarlett is a heroine with insurmountable flaws, but her single minded determination and her raw courage have made her an enduring cultural icon. More recent literary history gives us the Dallanger Saga by V.C. Andrews, which captivated millions of readers with its vengeful heroine, Cathy Doll. But as dark and twisted as Cathy is, there can be redemption for her.
Not so with the main character of a remarkable novel I just read. Wideacre is not the kind of book that I would normally have picked up. In fact, because I had no notion of where the story was going, the first chapter was so dull that I nearly chucked the book in the trash. Worse, I could not find it within me to like the heroine. But soon, I realized that I did not just dislike Beatrice Lacey--I hated her.
And then I could not put the book down.
The narrator of Wideacre is unlike any main character I have ever encountered before with the possible exception of The Marquise de Merteuil from Dangerous Liaisons or Catherine Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights. At first, I read Wideacre because I was shocked. Then I kept reading because I couldn't wait to find out what awful thing Beatrice the sociopath would do next. But eventually, I became so absorbed in the darkness of her heart and the desperation of her struggle that I was unaccountably moved to tears.
While I could see no road to redemption for Beatrice, and I did not come to love her, I took no joy in her failures. This book is a tragedy, and in spite of the wildly divergent reviews on Amazon.com, I think it'll resonate with every woman's inner villainess.
Though Beatrice is not a normal woman by any stretch of the imagination, she is a product of the sexism of her times. Some of her vices, in a man, would be virtues. It's her absolute refusal to accept the role that society has set out for her that turns her into a monster. It's not that Beatrice can't love. It's that she doesn't love as a woman ought to. And when she does love, it's to such excess that it destroys everything.
In less exaggerated ways, I suspect every woman has been there. Driven by passions that are unseemly, unacceptable, and difficult to control. Usually, this manifests itself in semi-innocent transgressions, like spying on a boyfriend's email or calling his cell phone 47 times. But Wideacre must be understood as a woman's fable. It's a lesson in violent passions unrestrained by conscience or apology. And though it purports to be historical fiction, there are some plausibly deniable fantasy elements that pull it into the speculative fiction realm.
It's also a book with political and historical lessons; a thinking person's gothic horror. But at its core Wideacre is epic myth. Beatrice is a woman and a goddess, with all the potential for destruction that entails.
Wideacre is not a perfect book. It's too long by about 200 pages. It's repetitive, surreal, and after a while, you can see the ending coming like an unstoppable freight train and you're just there to watch the wreck. This is a dark book, disgusting and compelling at once. It's also a book that will haunt me for a long time.
It is a compliment to Gregory's writing talent to say that I found the main character so unsympathetic as to make the book difficult to read. Gregory skillfully takes us inside the clever mind of a cold-hearted, obsessed young woman, Beatrice Lacey, who has set her cap on one thing and one thing alone. Putting aside the themes of incest and violence, Beatrice Lacey is, in a word, psychopathic. Her utter lack of conscience, her grasping greed, and her inability to love others are her main traits. These traits also bring about her downfall, but only after about 600 pages of distasteful conduct. Nevertheless, I kept reading, as Gregory's depiction of life in Georgian England is richly drawn with lots of interesting detail. I can't say that I enjoyed this book, but I couldn't fail to finish it.
This book was well written. All of the characters were flawed and hard to like by the middle of the story, but I felt compelled to keep reading.
The main character is motivated by obsession and as is typical with that sort of plot, the story becomes dark. It is interesting to have the character start out as a sweet girl and then develop into a woman who will do whatever it takes to achieve her goal.
This is not your Momma's historical fiction! There is dark and very adult content in this series. Many commandments are broken, so if that sort of thing bothers you, skip this series.
The series order is Wideacre, The Favored Child, Meridon.
I am a huge Philippa Gregory fan and buy her books the day they come out, but even I could not bring myself to finish this book. The incest storyline grossed me out more than it intrigued me, and I wasn't enjoying reading this book at all. I'm not usually offended easily but this book crossed a line with me. I get that the incest is a way to convey how Beatrice will stop at absolutely nothing to get her way, but I couldn't stand to read further. I've decided to move on to the other books I have to read and not spend any more time on this one... hopefully The Other Queen isn't as disturbing as this one because I can't wait to read it!
I actually surprised myself by finishing this book, because even as I read it I constantly thought I would not continue and wondered why I did. I guess the only reason is that Philipa Gregory is such a great writer, she kept me strangely engrossed. I was really appalled and disgusted at the content and could not stand the characters. Not an uplifting, happy story. Will not read any further in this series though. Don't want to waste my points.