Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2013 Second Takes: Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Splendors and Glooms requires my single least-favorite kind of review to write. It's fun to write about books that I love, or even about books that I hate. Even writing about books that are interesting but flawed can lead to discussions about what makes a book work or not work. But what of a book where the reaction is "it's perfectly fine, I'm just the wrong reader for it?"

I think of Laura Amy Schlitz as both the most British and the most 19th-century of our contemporary American authors. In Splendors and Glooms, she manages a pitch-perfect homage/update to the Victorian Gothic, with heavy doses of Charles Dickens mixed in. The characters are real and vivid, and the settings -- both the grime of London and the wild beauty of Windermere -- are detailed and well-described. It's distinguised writing, no question of that.

The book's flaws are the kind common to the source genre, and some readers will probably think of them as features. The pacing is phlegmatic, and the narrative takes a long time to get going, and even longer to wind down. Despite the fact that it's a book with an action-oriented plot structure, it's not the kind of thing you enjoy if you're in a hurry to get where you're going. The more you enjoy spending time in the world that Splendors and Glooms creates, the more you'll enjoy the winding road through it.

As for me, I'm not a big fan of Victoriana, and I prefer my fantastical adventure novels either more introspective or more unsettling. Rachael is much closer to the optimal reader for Splendors and Glooms, and her review of it was highly positive. Monica Edinger and Nina Lindsay were also lavish in their praise. Nina did observe, "This seems to be a “love it or hate it” title, and if you’re not loving it, it asks a lot of you." I'm not loving it, and I felt like in the end, it asked too much of me. However, that's a function of the intersection between book and reader, not of any overt problems with the book itself. It actually fits the Newbery criteria quite well, especially in "delineation of a setting" and "delineation of characters." I don't think it's as exceptional as Mr. & Mrs. Bunny, The One and Only Ivan, or Twelve Kinds of Ice, but that's not at all to label it as bad or unworthy. It's quite good -- it's just that it's quite good for Someone Else.


  1. Did y'all get to read Betsy Bird's review of this ( yet? She was definitely the "right" reader for this one haha. I was particularly interested in the title and cover change for the UK edition (which I found disappointing as I think GIVES AWAY a major plot point or two). Am I the only one who got a vaguely sexual vibe from this book? Also I felt the kind of telepathic connection between Parse and Clara doesn't get much of a pay off... Sequel please! (Sam, you don't have to read it. Unless Rachael makes you. LOL)

    1. Yeah, Betsy's definitely the right reader! And I'm with you on the UK cover and title being disappointing.

      I thought the book had an awful lot of sexual tension in it, actually, which is part of what gives it credibility as a Victorian Gothic. I also felt like the ending left a lot open for a possible sequel, should she choose to go that route. (Like...Clara can get into Parse's dreams, and even into Lizzie Rose's -- what's her deal exactly?)

    2. Oh thank G-d! I was starting to think I'm a weirdo. But there aren't many other ways to read the phrase "she thrilled at his touch." (There's that moment at the end too, where Parse crooks his finger and Clara turns to him, like she's still his puppet... Definitely something going on! Laura don't leave us hanging!)

  2. I'm with you, Sam - I was bored with this one, though I can't deny how well-written it was. I got to the end - probably 20-25 pages left - and just petered out. Didn't even finish it, and I don't care what happened. But yes, some of the language was pretty beautiful.