While I love the couple in this novel, the most important aspect of this book for me is the development of Minerva’s character. I love how she steadily grows more confident in herself. Another thing I love that’s related to that is how in awe of her Colin comes to be and how important it is to him that she realizes her greatness and her worthiness:
As he watched her, Colin was visited by the strangest feeling, unfurling warm and buttery inside him. It was a sense of privilege and mute wonder, as though he’d witnessed one of those small, everyday miracles of spring. Like a licked-clean foal taking its first steps on wobbly legs. Or a new butterfly, pushing scrunched, damp wings from a chrysalis. Before his eyes, she’d transformed into a new creature. Still a bit awkward and uncertain, but undaunted. And well on her way to being beautiful. (83)
She doesn’t care what society will think of her if she’s “ruined.” She just wants to get to that geology symposium to show off Francine (aka a plaster mold of an extinct giant lizard’s foot). Not only that, but she learns to own her body, as well as her mind. And she is happy. At one point in the novel, Minerva looks over her trousseau and realizes that it’s for her and no one else:
After this journey–heavens, after last night–marriage seemed less likely than ever. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t use these things, or that she must deny this side of herself. The items in this trunk were elegant and sensual, and they were hers. Whether or not she had a husband to display them for. (244)
At one point she realizes that she is “owning the wildness that was a part of her, too” (301). When I read this line I thought of the lyrics to Laura Marling’s “Wild Once”: “Well, you are wild / And you must remember.” Women are told even today that we should be quiet and reserved. Well,
some most of us aren’t.
Men never hesitated to declare their presence. They were permitted to llive aloud, in reverberating thuds and clunks, while ladies were always schooled to abide in hushed whispers. (132)
It’s so important for Minerva to realize this and that it’s perfectly fine. In an interview with Evening Standard, Carey Mulligan said, “I avoid period drama, but original female roles are rare.” There tend to be stronger female characters in period dramas than in stories set in modern times. I wonder if that’s true in literature, as well. Are there stronger female characters in historical fiction than in contemporary novels? If so, could this be because it is easier for female writers to present feminist stories in novels than in television or film? Could this be because of the heavy bias toward male screenwriters, producers, directors, etc.?
Overall, the story was very fun, and I never really guessed what would happen next in the middle of the book, which is always good. I read this over the course of twenty-four hours, and I can definitely picture myself reading it again.
This passage is just so gorgeous, I have to share it:
…this native people he lived with, deep in the jungle—their language had dozens of words for rain. Because it was so common to them, you see. Where they lived, it rained almost constantly. Several times a day. So they had words for light rain, and heavy rain, and pounding rain. Something like eighteen different terms for storms, and a whole classification system for mist.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
His touch skimmed idly down her arm. “Because I’m standing here, wanting to give you a fitting compliment, but my paltry vocabulary fails me. I think what I need is a scientific excursion. I need to venture deep into some jungle where beauty takes the place of rain. Where loveliness itself falls from the sky at regular intervals. Dots every surface, saturates the ground, hangs like vapor in the air. Because the way you look, right now . . .” His gaze caught hers in the reflection. “They’d have a word for it there.”
Entranced by his touch and his warm, melting tone, she watched her own eyes go glassy in the mirror. She leaned back a fraction, resting against his chest. His heartbeat pounded against her spine, echoing through her chest like some distant drum.
“There’d be so many words for beauty there,” he went on, bringing his lips close to her ear and dropping his voice to a murmur. “Words for everyday showers of prettiness, and the kind of misty loveliness that disappears whenever you try to grasp it. Beauty that’s heralded by impressive thunder, but turns out to be all flash. And beyond all these, there’d be this word . . . a word that even the most grizzled, wizened elders might have uttered twice in their lifetimes, and in hushed, fearful tones at that. A word for a sudden, cataclysmic torrent of beauty with the power to change landscapes. Make plains out of valleys and alter the course of rivers and leave people clinging to trees, alive and resentful, shaking their fists at the heavens.” A hint of sensual frustration roughened his voice. “And I will curse the gods along with them, Min. Some wild monsoon raged through me as I looked at you just now. It’s left me rearranged inside, and I don’t have a map.”
- She might very well be plain, booksh, distracted, and awkward–but she was determined. (3)
- Be they novels or histories or scientific treatises, books were frequently her refuge. Tonight, the book was her literal shield, her only barrier against the world. (35)
- The only way to end a nonsensical conversation was to simply cease talking. (46)
- She looked like a memory, interraupted. Or a glimpse into the future, perhaps. (97)
- Today, all of her mother’s judgments had been proved false. She wasn’t plain, but pretty. She wasn’t distracted and awkward, but confident and a crack shot. (252)
- She stretched sinuously on the cot, making her whole body an invitation writ in pale pink calligraphy. (257)
- “I wont have you making light of my feelings, or making light of yourself–as if you’re not worthy of the. Because you are worthy, Colin. You’re a generous, good-hearted erson, and you deserve to be loved. Deeply, truly, well, and often.” He looked utterly bewildered. Well, what did he expect after the power he’d iven her? He couldn’t compare a woman to a torrentially beautiful monsoon, and then look surprised that he’d gotten wet. (288)