by Luanne Rice
Against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, and in the shadow of a mysterious family legend, one woman is about to discover that to find your way home, sometimes you must travel far away.…
An accomplished anthropologist, Susannah Connolly suddenly finds herself adrift in the wake of a failed love affair and the loss of her mother. Boarding a transcontinental flight on the evening of her birthday, she’s decided to give herself a long-deferred gift. Encouraged by her late mother’s magical stories, she is traveling from the Connecticut shore to the fabled French Camargue, to see its famous white horses and find a mysterious “saint” linked to her family’s history.Amid the endless silvered marshes, she will find a lonely man, his wounded daughter–and a part of herself she hadn’t known she’d lost…until she realized how hard it would be to lose it again.
Before I begin this post, let's all view a video! (It's pertinent, I promise.) Behold:
Okay, so let's regroup. After viewing the video (if you failed to view the video, go back and view it, otherwise you're going to fail at understanding how insane a certain portion of this book is when you get down to really imagining what is going on...and you're going to want to imagine this to the point where you don't want to imagine anymore, so view the damn video), you will notice the Camargue horses and the Camargue. You'll also notice the prancing and the standing on the horses as they prance through arenas and marshes and whatnot. Prance, prance, prance...it's just magical, okay? Now, this is pertinent because every time someone says something about riding a horse in this book, they really mean what is going on in this video. This book reads like Luanne Rice stared at this video for a year straight, actually. So just keep that in mind, especially for the later part -- the portion of this book I can't get into now, because it's way too early in any review for that. Seriously.
Someone requested this book, and I decided that the best way to get through this was by forcing myself to pay attention to it by listening to the audio book version. I've got a long commute, so this worked out for the book, because I was forced to sit through every minute of the thirteen and a half hours this book took of my commuting time. I later discovered this book is 400 pages long, and there is no way I was going to be able to get through that without skimming vast portions. The stupid audio book made me sit through a lot I wouldn't normally sit through. That is not a plus, but let's just get to the story.
Susannah is a cultural anthropologist (cue lots of talk about cultural anthropology and cave paintings that I didn't want to know about...thanks audio book!) who has toiled through 42 years of life without the love of a decent man. That is to say, she's got the love of a man...he's just not the right man. This man is Ian, her study partner in grad school. He wants to marry her, but he mainly just wants to keep benefiting from her work. Susannah rejects his marriage proposal, but he keeps clinging to the hope that she'll do what he wants, pissing her off in a really round about and infuriatingly calm way. Susannah's mom recently died, resulting in angst ahoy for Susannah, who didn't make it back from Turkey in time to see her mom before she died, leaving her feeling guilty, despite knowing that her mom wanted her to go and not plant herself next to her hospital bed. Susannah angsts anyway and decides to go to the Camargue, because that is where she was going to go with her mom, and it happens to be where she was conceived due to some divine intervention of Sara La Kali. Susannah also has violet eyes. I think that's all you need to know about Susannah right there.
Anyway, Susannah arrives in France and immediately finds herself trooping through the marsh because that's a great idea, Suzie! Instead of running into the horses she runs into a whole herd of bulls and is saved by Grey Dempsey in heroic fashion (ie. he gallops in on a white horse, grabs her hand, lifts her onto the horse, and they gallop back to her car). Grey is an American and hated by the gypsy people because he married Maria, the very best of all the local gypsies, and tainted her by impregnating her, resulting in the thirteen-year-old tear machine, Sari. You see, five long years ago, Maria ran off and Sari pitched a fit and hysterics ensued and this inevitably resulted in Sari falling off a horse and breaking her pelvis. Maria went to Nevada and Sari has issues. Since the fall she is completely color blind and she cries or whispers something in a tortured voice every three pages. I would like to say I am kidding, but I'm just not. If there was any emotionally traumatized person you want to slap, it is this kid.
Susannah and Grey start the most tentative relationship ever and angst ensues. Sari cries, Susannah thinks about crying, Sari cries, Susannah's eyes well up with tears, Sari cries, Susannah cries, Sari cries some more, and Grey is surrounded by INSANE PEOPLE. Okay. So everyone is walking on eggshells around Sari, Susannah winds up being totally accepted by the gypsy community because their saint, Sara La Kali, caused her very existence, and Grey obsesses over wanting to do something with Susannah without upsetting Sari, who is going to be upset anyway because every day she gets upset over something, for Christ's sake. Eventually Grey and Susannah go diving in some cave somewhere and later Ian pops up in some ridiculous romance novel attempt at staking claim. Grey totally acts like he's twelve (I was thinking it, and Ian voiced it, and I snickered mercilessly) and tosses Ian in a harbor. Then they go on some moonlit ride that may or may not have involved sex in a marsh. I lean away from this, actually, because Sari has to interrupt them to scream about this yearling she accidentally let out of the stable. Oops.
So Susannah and Grey find the yearling in a pool of quicksand, and they manage to save it after several minutes of angsting and Susannah trying to not be turned on by Grey's naked torso. I guess the sexual frustration reaches a fever point during all of this, because the horse pops out of the quicksand and they start making out. Of course, then Sari has to show up and throw another fit. Susannah leaves after this and flies back to Connecticut, where she teaches cultural anthropology. Her mentor, Helen, hears all about these adventures and tells her that she should really stalk Maria. Fantastic idea! Susannah goes to Nevada and checks into Maria's ranch/circus/whatever. She discovers that Maria is pregnant (not shocking, although of course Susannah was knocked over by this development) and actually not a villain. She's, like, totally agreeable. Only then this girl has to find a book on Sara La Kali in Susannah's room, and in a fit of emotional turmoil after a call from her gypsy friends (who have steadily ignored her for 13 years, but have now gotten over it because Sari's insanity is starting to actually trouble people), Maria totally breaks into Susannah's hotel room and reads the letters to Grey and discovers Susannah's true purpose for visiting. Susannah finds her and proceeds to drive the point home to the hilt: blah blah Sari blah blah crazy blah blah motherhood blah blah help blah.
Turns out that Maria left because she thought it would help Sari out in the long run, given that the gypsies sort of cursed her (or not, I don't really know about that) and has longed to hear news about Sari. Since then she's wanted another kid to make up for the fact that she left her daughter, but suddenly she can't have kids. She knows that it is Sara La Kali punishing her for what she did, so she decides to give up riding (see: vaulting or whatever we were discussing earlier). The night she decides to give up riding, she rides (vaults) out into the desert with her husband guy. They ride (vault) their horses over the sand. She, of course, is wearing a shimmering silky dress. Then her husband guy jumps onto her horse and they decide, hey, let's sit on the horse instead of doing this standing thing. And then sex on horseback happens. Yup. I know. I will never understand the mechanics that go into this, but I can only hope they thought to slow the horse down to a walk or something.
Anyway, so then we skip forward about a month to this festival thing. Grey has worked out this plan with Susannah and the gypsies, including Maria. They're all going to meet at the carnival and reintroduce Sari to Maria at a hugely attended event so as to maximize the potential for melodrama, I guess. Sari is in the middle of pitching yet another crying fit when Maria shows up on Grey's horse. Automatically Sari shuts her trap and Grey puts her on the horse with Maria and two seconds later everything is not only fantastic, Sari's ability to see color comes back. In the epilogue, Sari goes out to Nevada to see Maria and presumably stops being so flipping annoying. Susannah decides to move to France to be with Grey. The end.
- Publishers Weekly called the narrative in this book "maddeningly repetitive" and they are very right. Not to mention, Luanne doesn't just use one adjective to describe something. Oh no. Why use one when you can use three? And most dialogue begins with "Oh, Grey" or "Oh, Sari" or "Oh, Susannah," and maybe it was the way the woman on the audio book read that, but it drove me absolutely up the wall.
- After Susannah and Grey kiss, they always always have to describe what they taste like, and whether or not their lips are hot, cold or the intriguing combination of both. That also drove me crazy.
- As a librarian, if anyone in my field ever came up to me after I'd taken some strange trip to, say, this Bibliothèque du Cheval Blanc (I don't know if it's real, and I don't care), and said "How was your trip to the bibliothèque?" I would probably secretly hate that person.
The one thing I liked about this book was the suggestion that women don't have to pick and choose between what they want to do with their lives. There's all of this emphasis on picking between motherhood and whatever the hell else women might want to do, and being forced to give up everything for the fact that they are a mother. This resonates a lot with the Maria portion of the story, and how she eventually comes to the conclusion that you can have anything you want along with being a mother, etc. So that was okay. The rest of the book was way too long, way too repetitive, way filled with info dumps you never wanted to know or were never that important to begin with, and by the last chapter you have a sense that at least a chapter or two was cut because someone realized that this was getting out of hand. Publishers Weekly got it right. It's maddening and dull.
(But I still get to create that sex on horseback tag, so I'm pretty happy.)