Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahan

I've got to say, the only reason I took this book home with me was the quote from another author on the front of the book. I've read two Kate Mosse novels (Labyrinth and Sepulchre) and thought, well, I'll know what to expect.

It was much, much better than that. I really looked forward to reading this book when I wasn't reading it, a must for finishing books when I also have an iPod to keep me busy on the train home.

It's about a woman named Evelyn in England right after World War I. The sense is that the war pretty much ruined an entire (male) generation; if it didn't kill them, then it certainly made them crazy. With the supply of men somewhat diminished, there's something of a slow panic among women; you might be a perfectly suitable and attractive woman, but it is very possible you will end up alone.

Evelyn is one of the first women lawyers, having to fight tooth and nail to be respected. One night, a woman shows up at her home (that she shares with her mother and grandmother) with a child in tow. Her late brother's child.

Its tricky because [spoilers!] I definitely called what happened to the woman (Meredith) with the child (called Edmund). It seemed so obvious to me that she had been raped by Evelyn's much worshiped dead brother (James). Meredith was so disinclined to talk about James that it felt like a red flashing warning. The confession comes out when they're both drunk at a party:
"Well, the truth is this. James fell in love with me, like so many of them did. We were ministering angels, after all, in our white veils and aprons. Those men emerged from the pain and the horror to find that we had created order and had quiet voices and gentle hands. We were women. But unlike the others your brother was greedy. It wasn't enough to look -- he had to touch, too. He grew hungrier and hungrier, pursued me, wouldn't leave me alone, refused to take no for an answer, found out my routine until, on the evening before he was due to go back, he came looking for me with one idea in his head."
Evelyn misunderstands this, She says that Meredith must have given James some sort of signal, she must have done something to cause it. Meredith says,
"He regarded my resistance as an obstacle, simply, to overcome."
For a novel set in the 1920s, I thought this was fairly well done. Meredith continually says that she cared for him as she cared for all the men that she nursed during the war, but that didn't mean that she wanted him to rape her, to terrorize her.

Overall, this book was much better than I expected. I appreciated the delicacy with which the author dealt with the emotions of every character.

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