I finished Misfortune, that much-neglected-by-me book by Wesley Stace, and it was fantastic. At the point that I put it down originally I was only about 50 pages in, and while the prose was beautiful, it hadn’t grabbed me in that “sit down and read until the book is done” kind of way. I’m happy to report that once I picked it up again and read another 27 pages (to be exact), the narration had me firmly about the neck and didn’t let go until I read the last page the next day. There are only a few books that make my eyes widen in delight as I recognize a narrative voice that I completely connect with. Misfortune is one of those books.
It’s the story of young Miss Rose Loveall, an abandoned child found by a rich young man who is mourning a loss from years before. He takes in Rose as his own, and raises her to be his heir. She is mothered by the woman who serves as the curator of the library on his estate, and grows up with a broad and progressive education. Her foundling status is hidden from Loveall’s relatives, as they are an evil bunch who want nothing more than to take over the estate and all the riches that come with it. But that’s not the only secret being kept… the beautiful Rose is actually a boy.
This premise could be tawdry or juvenile, but Stace presents it with grace and skill. Rose is raised to believe that she is a girl, and Stace’s handling of her suspicions and ultimate realization of the truth is insightful and heartbreaking. What follows that realization is a search for identity, not only in terms of sexuality or gender, but also in terms of her actual heritage as she tries to track down her parentage.
Central to the action and theme of the novel is bibliophilia, and the book itself is a love letter to literature and those who create it. It reminds me on a number of levels of Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which is a huge compliment to both books. Both center on the effect that certain books or authors have on an individual, and while both do excellent jobs at describing that effect, they also achieve the feat of having that very effect on the reader. (They also both caused me to wish repeatedly that someone would just kill the villan so they would go away and not be able to hurt my sweet characters anymore– I’m not sure if that says more about the authors, or me!)
For those who don’t know, Wesley Stace is also John Wesley Harding, an incredibly talented musician, whose music is beautiful and whose lyrics are witty and poignant. That skill is put to fabulous use in Misfortune, as ballads and poetry lace the narrative. In a lot of books this kind of addition is kind of hollow- you could take them out and the book wouldn’t lack anything, but Stace has crafted little pieces of art that nestle into the narrative until they are inseperable.
I can’t write much more about it without giving things away, which would really be a crime. You should read it, and get to it with more dilligence than I did!
On a completely different note- I’ve been crying for most of the day, listening to the soundtrack for the movie version of Rent. The original music is so powerful and tells such a gorgeous story, and the music for the movie is only slightly changed, but in such a way that forces you listen to it afresh, and brings all the emotion right to the surface. The orchestrations are more lush, and slightly “bigger”, which heightens the experience; as you’re expecting them to come in like they always have, and then they do and they’re huge. I can’t wait to see the film and see how they manage the story, what the medium adds to the experience.
I’m in the process of burying myself in books about the 1920s and spritualism, in preparation for NaNoWriMo– I’ll have to be able to pull out context at a moment’s notice!
Just Finished: Misfortune by Wesley Stace
Currently Reading: The Spiritualists by Ruth Brandon
Current total: 71