06 May, 2012
Review: The Proposal by Mary Balogh
Busiek Rule 1: Don't buy books you hate in hopes they'll get better. Buy books you like. If the bad books get better you'll hear about it. - Kurt Busiek
And thus, I break up with Mary Balogh.
The Proposal is not a bad book. It is a book of missed opportunity. Balogh builds a wealth of back history for the characters and then does nothing with it. All of their conflict is internal and unrelated to either that history or each other. Major sources of pain or conflict in their life are swept aside. I knew I was in trouble on when the annoying friend of the heroine is first seen by the Duke and he thinks to himself (as everyone in this book always thinks - to themselves and at great length) that this 34 year old woman has really let herself go.
"She also carried too much weight upon her frame, and most of it had settled quite unbecomingly beneath her chin and about her bosom and hips. Her brown hair had lost any youthful luster it might once have had" - The Proposal by Mary Balogh, Page 43
Really? That's what middle aged dukes spent their time thinking about? Mind you, this character is being set up as selfish, needy, tiresome and social climbing. But my god, she's FAT? Well. The heroine obviously deserves better companions. I'm not sure why. At this point in the book she'd little to recommend her. Toward the end I knew I was done for the series. Our hero (spoiler alert) has gone to war after a falling out with his father, a falling out reconciled only on his father's deathbed. Their once close relationship was ruined by his young stepmother after she attempted to seduce him. He ran off to war. His father eventually died. His stepmother continued to manipulate all around her. When this predator haltingly apologizes for her actions he dismisses it with a blithe "It was my choice". There are tons of these moments. A huge build up to a possible scandal is averted by a bizarre (and frankly unlikely) save from another character. Issues of class are largely brushed aside even as they are used for the main wedge between our alleged lovers. I say alleged because Gwen and Hugo are so tepid in their emotions that I was left uncertain if their first sexual encounter was even enjoyed. I'm not one for the sex scenes (a reason for my long standing Balogh love) yet I generally leave knowing if the principals would do it again. I frankly thought we were headed for one of those It Gets Better speeches from the hero. Instead, after a few chapters, I ascertained that Gwen was perfectly happy with how things had gone.
Hugo was equally confusing. He has fallen for Gwen because she is the heroine. Hugo dislikes the aristocracy in principal, he openly states his main reason for wanting to marry is being able to get sex at home, and he - wait, let's back up. I don't care enough about Hugo to keep discussing him. I am so tired of romance discussing whores and brothels and paid sex like the people paying were forced to do so. The sex trade was alive in the past as it is alive today. Real women, real children, real people are used to feed it. Objecting to the sex trade on a matter of principle makes me respect the hero. Participating in the sex trade because he is a product of his time makes me accept the hero. Sneering a bit at the women who work it while worrying about how paying for sex makes him look is a quick route to hero hatred for me. Hugo is a plain spoken man who honors daily labor. He should honor women forced to make a living off men like him. At the least, he should recognize them as people. He doesn't. He thinks of them as slightly shameful and rather inconvenient. He is a hypocrite of high order.
I don't know. There is plenty to enjoy in The Proposal. I was held back from doing so by excessive ruminations and a feeling of excessive cliche. Balogh is launching a new series of largely disabled heros with The Proposal. Given the way she handles the heroine's racehorse fragile ankle I am not sure I care to see what she does with her blind or crippled veterans. Hugo carries Gwen around like a package. Being carried is not such an easy feeling, nor is it so easily achieved. I wonder if the disabilities of the others are going to be so lightly worn? Further, there is a casual insult to her treatment of Gwen. At one point she is carried downstairs so she doesn't miss the company - no tray in her room for Gwen! After a brief conversation, she is given a tray in the drawing room and the party removes to eat. Gwen is refused the comfort and privacy of her room but not fully included in their evening. To what end? Moments like this make me wary of Balogh's next work.