Friday, January 21, 2011

A Traumatic Thing Happened on the Way to Sleep Last Night

I’m reading Assegai, by Wilbur Smith. This book was recommended to me by a FB friend and, until last night I was enjoying it very much. The historical viewpoint on big game hunting in Africa, circa 1906, is quite interesting, though I’m glad that this mass slaughter is no longer encouraged the way it seemed to be back then. The story is more saga than plot oriented, which is fine. The problem with it started when the hero’s unrequited love for one of his clients’ mistress became all too graphically requited!

It’s no secret that I am not in any way, shape or form partial to romance literature (and I use that term loosely in reference to the genre). After 375 pages of adventure the author stooped to a bodice-ripper writing style, spelling out in infinite and border-line pornographic detail just how the hero’s love was requited. Seriously, what man actually says things like, “My darling, I’ve loved you from the moment I first saw you.”? Or, “My darling, I can’t wait any longer. I must have you!” Gag me with a fork!

This rough and courageous hunter was suddenly reduced to a sniveling pile of mush. (I was hoping another lion would jump out of the bushes and put me out of my misery.) Up to this point there was hunting and espionage and intrigue and adventure peppered with witch doctors and tribal rites of passage and big smelly animals and aeroplanes and horses and a black mamba. People got bitten and gored. Animals got shot and speared. And then the hero got his love requited and I had to read all about it.

When, at last, the requiting was over and the couple finally went to sleep, I forged on, hoping for more adventure to erase the images of requiting from my mind. But no! The story launched into a tear-jerking reminiscence of the mistress’s sad and tragic life to date and I was regaled for three tedious pages on how she lost her mother at the tender age of twelve to polio and how her father also succumbed to the disease, but survived. Then, confined to a wheel chair, he went on to use his brilliant mind to engineer several advanced mechanical devices, only to have them stolen from him by a German man, who used them to amass a vast fortune. In his despair, the father blows his brains out, leaving his beautiful, but naïve daughter an orphan. Out of the blue, a woman claiming to be a long, lost friend of her mother takes in the girl and grooms her to eventually pass herself off as German and become the mistress of the man who stole her father’s inventions and caused him to take his own life… Good, bloody, grief!

After several years prostituting herself for the British military, pretending to be German and not able to understand English, thusly gathering and delivering secrets - a veritable British Mata Hari – she is finally free because the evil German dude she’s been servicing for King and country has been mauled almost to death by a lion. (Go Panthera Leo!) And I was left hanging on this tale of woe because a) it was getting late and I had to get up for work; and b) I just couldn’t take it anymore!

Why? Why do authors feel so compelled to inject this sort of drivel into what are otherwise perfectly good narratives? Are people that unfulfilled that they have to read sex euphemized as heaving bosoms and throbbing members? Are there cash awards for authors who come up with this crap? I seriously can’t think of any other reason to screw with the syntax and bastardize the lexicon and then call it literature!

I’m all for the hero getting a bit of lovin’. After killing all those elephants and wildebeests and lions and gazelle, laying his life on the line to satisfy the blood lust of paying clients of lesser skill and acumen, he deserves a good time. I wouldn’t begrudge him the chance, but I don’t need the details. I would have been just has happy to be told that they withdrew to their tent for the evening. I would have figured out what was really going on.

As for the account of the mistress so miserably manipulated by military intelligence (?), well, it no doubt sucks to be her and, while I’m not unsympathetic, did she have to be so whiny about it? And did he have to be so schmaltzy?

With less than a hundred pages left, I will persevere and see it through to the end, if only to find out what the witch doctor has to say to them when they get to the top of the mountain, which is where they were headed before all the requiting of love and revealing of pasts occurred. So far the witch doctor - Lumisa is her name - hasn’t let me down and I’m rather looking forward to spending a few pages with her again. And when I’m done, I’m going to seek out a decent murder mystery – Ghost in the Machine by Caroline Graham, I think – and try to put this all behind me.

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