Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: Margaret of the North

Title of Book: Margaret of the  North
Author: E Journey
Published: April 25, 2012
Available: Amazon, Smashwords

The romantic classics follow a rather simple recipe. Man and woman meet. There is immediately an underlying attraction, but before they can act upon it, events lead them astray and they grow to despise each other, even more so because of the sexual tension which haunts them. But, in the end,  it is true love which conquers all and our hero and heroine join together in a passionate embrace, ensuring us that they will live happily ever after.

There is something smugly satisfying in reading such a happy ending. It doesn’t really matter if we really believe that they will live together happily ever after. For a moment, we collectively share a leap of faith, believing that all is possible, if only we find the right person.

Such endings have satisfied people for a long time - centuries, in fact. But lately, readers seem to want more. They want to know what happens next. Do Darcy and Elizabeth marry? Do their passion and newly found intimacy stand the test of time?

And this is where the sequels fit in. Not sequels written by the original authors. They have long since left this world. But sequels written by new authors.

In most cases, the new authors try to maintain the colour and texture of the original work. Where they decide to take us, regarding the progression of the plot, is another matter. Much of this depends on their own view of the world. Do they believe that love will continue to conquer all, despite the mundane trials and tribulations of daily life? Or do they believe that passion and intimacy will slowly fade away.

In “Margaret of the North”, a sequel to Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South”, E. Journey chooses the first course. Throughout the sequel, the passion and intimacy between Margaret and John not only show no signs of fading, but appear to grow in intensity. But, whereas this may pay homage to our romantic desires, it does not make for the best reading. Much of the strength of the original story was in the conflict between Margaret and John which leads to their realization of their love for each other in the end.
Our expectancy, as to where this conflict may lead us, makes for compelling reading. But in the sequel, things are a little too perfect, and although the repetitive text informing us of their love for each other may be reassuring, it leaves no room for expectation, and makes for very slow reading at times.

Another source for conflict in the original story was the goings on at the mill. Would the mill keep on running, would the workers strike, would the owners of the mill understand the needs of the workers better. These concerns were not only an integral part of the evolving plot, but also had a significant effect upon the relationship between Margaret and John. However, this compelling conflict is lost in the sequel. Margaret has received a sizable inheritance and John no longer needs to worry about how to finance the reopening of the mill. Margaret also has the means now by which to finance her progressive ideas about improving workers’ conditions, something which John fully supports. The only real remaining source of conflict is Margaret’s relationship with John’s mother. John’s mother cannot find it in her heart to accept or like Margaret. However,  except for the sadness that this causes in Margaret’s heart, it has no significant effect on John and Margaret’s relationship, nor on other things which take place.

While the sequel is fairly well written, I found that the method of telling the story through the eyes, and more specifically - through the minds of the characters, left me somewhat detached. Reflections ran on for a little too long and I found too much of the text repetitive. And without elements of conflict, the characters seemed too one dimensional, at times. I also found that too much effort was invested in retelling many of the events that took part in the first book, as if only in this way could we truly understand what was transpiring. I would have preferred that the understanding of events in the original to be more subtly presented.

As  you may have guessed - although I consider myself a romantic by nature - I am also a pessimist as to how long romance can last. If you do not share such pessimism, you may see many of the things I have written about quite differently in your own reading of the book.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you, David, for such a well thought-out analytic review. It is rare that we get such reviews. Thank you, too, for giving a male perspective. Also unusual for this genre. In this book, what I wanted to do was shift the focus back to Gaskell's intent (as some literary analysis has shown) to deal with the repressed role of Victorian women and how one such woman overcomes it. Gaskell's original title for her book was Margaret but Dickens, who first published the story as a serial, preferred to highlight the master-worker conflict; thus North and South.

    It might have been too contrived a device but the inheritance Gaskell gives Margaret at the end of her book made it more possible for me to focus on gender issues by eliminating some of the conflict that arises from the problems at the mill. It is sad, I think, but in Victorian times, wealth was what made it possible for women to rebel. Feminists of the time, like Barbara Bodichon, inherited wealth.

    Perhaps, the reflections were indeed too long but I believe introspective people do rehash things in their minds many times over. Now I see that it may not make for interesting reading. I also believe much change occurs internally and that also takes time. And conflicts do not always come from events that are obvious or out in the open.

    I do believe your review is well-balanced. I do not deny that I, like other writers, would have been happier to get a 4 or even a 5/5 but, in the long run, a review such as yours (analytic and up front about where you're coming from) is really more helpful and informative to the process of writing.