Sweet Agony - Charlotte Stein

"Beauty and the Beast" meets Matilda meets "Secretary." (And supposedly "Sherlock" and "Jane Eyre" are in there too, though I didn't notice.)

 

I loved the first half of this vaguely gothic story, as a desperate young woman talks her way into a job with a supercilious hermit who turns out to have a deadly fear of physical contact. The relationship grows in a twisted yet strangely satisfying way, and it's very hot.

 

By the second half though, I was starting to feel impatient with the writing style. I'm generally a fan of Stein's stream-of-consciousness first person narratives, but this one started to feel forced... there was so much start/stop reportage of what Cyrian does -- during moments that are supposed to be overwhelming -- that I kept feeling jarred. It was like hearing someone reporting on an earthquake that was supposedly destroying their home while saying, "Yes, you won't believe what's happened now. Yup, my irreplaceable family portraits have all been smashed to dust. Oh, I feel unbelievably terrible about that. And guess what's happening now." I also got tired of Molly describing dialogue instead of simply presenting it. Basically, the whole point of this style is to feel immediate and unself-conscious, so it really doesn't work for me when it feels so very self-conscious.

 

(Thinking about my reaction to other recent Stein books, I think she works best for me when she's not writing solely about the two main characters. I didn't care for Taken either, another cabin fever story but loved Forbidden, in which there were other characters and some signficant backstory. Also, looking back through this book, I see the first half has far more dialogue and less description of dialogue than the second.)

 

So sadly, I didn't love this like I thought I was going to at first. It's still an interesting read and very exciting at times.