Friday, April 14, 2017

Deceptively Beautiful - The Queen of the Night

I'm super proud (and relieved!) to be finished with the first draft of my standalone WIP,  Up from the Bog. I'll be polishing the first draft in preparations for betas, but first I must Type.It.Up. Before I throw myself headlong into that, I scratched the itch that has been digging at me for the last third of the book or so, to read. I'll be doing that like a maniac until I can feel normal again. Book abstinence has driven me partially insane, where for the past two days I kind of forgot I had a life while I blew through the 500+ pages of Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night.

I'd been anticipating reading this book from my shelf for some time-I'm a sucker for stories of intrigue within the art world-in this case, the opera world. Lilliet Berne, a world-renowned singer with a rare and delicate Falcon voice, believes the secrets of her life to be discovered when a stranger presents her with a new opera, a story of her own life, in which she would originate the role, the greatest honor for an opera diva.

Lilliet runs through the options of who might have finally divulged her secret, telling her story with each of these characters in turn: as she says, one who loved her, one who owned her, one who is dead, and one she hopes never thinks of her at all. The language is lyrical, hypnotic, carefully crafted, and I laud the effort to mimic the narrative structures of a variety of opera throughout the course of the book. I was drawn deeper and deeper with fine details and the tremendous research of 19th-century Paris, its opera house, and major political players.

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women
merely players
-that's what Lilliet would have us believe
But the beauty of the words is a thick veil, and masks the flaws in narrative tension and development of character. The premise presented on the flap of the book is merely a frame story, for 90% of the book is consumed with Lilliet Berne's past. It robs that intrigue of its urgency, and since all these tales are Lilliet's secrets, it's easy to forget that they are secrets at all-in fact, almost every character you encounter seems to know exactly who she is and how she came to be an opera giant. So the fear with which she tries to decipher the thin mystery feels overly dramatic. Her memories likewise suffer from not being immediate or urgent for, after all, we know she will one day find herself where the book begins, singing to worshipping audiences at a lavish ball at Luxemborg Palace. And those past stories, though well-crafted, are sadly not so original, or shocking. They can be powerful because they are sad, not because I wasn't expecting it. It's nothing like the tension that grips me when reading Wilkie Collins. Now that man had secrets.

The many travails of a courtesan-
This book reminded me a lot of
du Maurier's Mary Anne
Much of Lilliet's sorrows are of her own making. Which isn't a flaw, per se, but throughout the telling of her whole life, she lives under the delusion that she is a caged bird, her fate determined by the powerful figures surrounding her. Many times, I found it easy to see how her story could have been different, how she did, in fact, have choices. She is not as controlled as she pretends to be, only she surrenders to the will of others-for vanity, mostly-for jewels, fine dresses, and the fame of a diva. Freedom, happiness, and a simple life are only out of reach because she makes it so. That pattern of decision-making does not change, even as she continues to encounter the same figures, and falls in with those who would exploit her terribly time and again, instead of resorting to: flight, murder, her on again off again deception of being mute, liquidating her assets, or forgiving the sins of others for which she is also guilty. Honestly-how is a courtesan upset about her lover doing the same?

In the end, I cannot be as sorry for her as I believe I'm meant to be, simply because I did not see any virtue in her choices-she could have been happy, had she been brave. I was left wishing for more heroism, and more of the darkness and fantasy that the original premise suggested. In truth, what this book needed was a little more Phantom.

K Rating: 7/10
**New Author Goal** 7 out of 30

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