Thursday, June 05, 2014

Double Book Review: GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell and SCARLETT by Alexandra Ripley

There isn't much I can add to the many reviews that have been done since the publication of Margaret Mitchell's saga GONE WITH THE WIND.  I can't add anything except that I am kicking myself for having gone so long without reading it.  I tried in the 7th Grade, but the material was way over my head for a girl still enamored of the fantasy genre.  I never got past the first chapter, even though I had seen the movie multiple times.  (It's my mother's favorite movie and book.)
If Margaret Mitchell was only going to write one book in her lifetime, she picked a good one.  It's meaty and rich, and provided a depth of character that I never saw in the film.  I still found myself wanting to shake Scarlett by the shoulders, but her fears and flaws came across so much better in the book than they do in the film.  I didn't like her, but I understood her.  And as wishy-washy as Melanie Wilkes always seemed in the film, I saw a backbone in her in the book that earned my unfettered admiration.  Don't get me wrong: the film is a masterpiece.  The book is that, plus ten.
As a romance writer, my single favorite scene in the book is one between Rhett and Scarlett, where she's attempting to stay angry with him, even though she's glad of his visit.  Their banter shines, and I can only assume that any romance writer who's ever read GWTW has read and re-read that scene in the hope that some of that genius rubs off on her.  I wish, wish, wish Mitchell had put more of those scenes in the book.  Rhett is still my favorite character, from Clark Gable's cocky smile onscreen to his unflinching view of reality in the novel.  He is the lens through which we see what Scarlett is, and what she can become if only she gets out of her own way.  (That's the best kind of hero.)
REVIEW: Five of five stars (What else could I give it? LOL)

It's really rather unfair to be tasked with following GONE WITH THE WIND with a sequel.  GWTW is so iconic that nothing short of a sequel penned by Mitchell herself could possibly have added up.
Knowing that, and knowing the instant condemnation Alexandra Ripley's SCARLETT had earned from fans of GWTW, I approached this book cautiously.  Unfortunately, even with an attempt at fair judgment, I could not love it.  It might have been a good one, if it had been a stand-alone novel about a post-war southern belle who travels to Ireland to find a new life.  Good, but not great, because there are still many flaws in this novel.  Comma splices run rampant.  The plot wanders, filling page without adding substance.  The thread picks up pace only when Scarlett moves to Ireland, and that's more than halfway through the book.  Even there, we wander ... just in another country.
The most glaring error is the author's lack of attention to character.  Scarlett and Rhett both do things in this novel that they would never have done in Mitchell's hands.  This is what brought me to the conclusion that this should have been an unrelated, stand-alone novel.  These characters, even if they'd been changed by the war, would never have been so fundamentally altered that they seem like such separate people.  I don't doubt that Ripley had respect for the original characters, and maybe a hefty dose of sophomore-jinx-related intimidation, but it hardly feels true to the spirit of Mitchell's Rhett and Scarlett.  One can't help making comparisons when the characters in a sequel are supposed to be the same as those in the original, after all.
The one thing I did love about this book was the presentation of a life in 19th century Ireland.  I enjoyed the rhythms of planting and harvesting, of Irish folklore and daily life, and even the friction of the English-Irish dichotomy.  I so wanted this to be a stand-alone book, so I could fully enjoy that part without the "taint" of its being a sequel to GWTW.  By the end of the book, however, events seem so rushed that it feels as though Ripley was being hurried to get it done by deadline.  Perhaps if she'd begun illustrating the conflict sooner, and given it a more gradual incline, it might not have felt so hurried.  Less wander, more tightening - that's what this book needed, and sadly didn't get.  I'm sorry to pan this book, because I love a good historical and wanted to enjoy it on its own merit, but the flaws just got in the way of what might have been a good story.
REVIEW: Two of five stars

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