Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Great and Terrible Beauty Ch1-2

So. Gemma Doyle time! Or more precisely A Great and Terrible Beauty time.

I'm planning on doing chapters in chunks for this.

Before we begin, let me tell you about the acknowledgment page. She thanks a wide number of sources for her research. They all involve the words "British", "Victorian" or "French". The first chapter starts in India.

I haven't been to India, let alone timetraveled there, so my knowledge of the place is based on books and movies and pictures. I can't really make any claims about how accurate this might be.

What I can say is that the level of detail and stereotypical descriptions in this is kind of what you'd get if you told me to write it, if I was eight, and maybe drunk.

“PLEASE TELL ME THAT’S NOT GOING TO BE PART OF MY birthday dinner this evening.”
I am staring into the hissing face of a cobra. A surprisingly pink tongue slithers in and out of a cruel
mouth while an Indian man whose eyes are the blue of blindness inclines his head toward my mother and explains in Hindi that cobras make very good eating.
My mother reaches out a white-gloved finger to stroke the snake’s back. “What do you think, Gemma? Now that you’re sixteen, will you be dining on cobra?”
The slithery thing makes me shudder. “I think not, thank you.”
The old, blind Indian man smiles toothlessly and brings the cobra closer.

Well, sort of. I would have had snake charmers if I had cobras, and definitely no one petting venomous animals. Googling the subject does not produce any links mentioning India, although apparently live cobra is a thing in Vietnam currently.

Then she bumps into a bunch of statues.

Kali, the destroyer. Lately, Mother has accused me of keeping her as my unofficial patron saint.

Teenager strife doesn't seem to have much to do with Kali. But then maybe they just don't really know much about the religion?

It keeps going and going about hot the place is hot and chaotic and foreign. It's almost like a parody of all the old British-people-in-India books I read when I was a kid. When I read there's the sense I'm waiting for a punchline.

Anyway, Gemma, having just turned sixteen, is complaining about everything, mostly because she's decided that she wants to go to London, her mother has said no, and so all she can think is that this isn't London so it sucks. She doesn't want to eat snake or be hot or see monkeys.

“Would you like to be paraded around the ballrooms of London society like some prize horse there to have its breeding capabilities evaluated? Would you still think London was so charming when you were the subject of cruel gossip for the slightest infraction of the rules? London’s not as idyllic as your grandmother’s letters make it out to be.”

I'm confused by what her mother's really expecting here. Gemma is going to be getting married, which inevitably means getting paraded around as a broodmare. That's just how things work. Even if her mother is really big on women's rights, she should recognize that making it hard for Gemma to get a good marriage is going to make it worse in the long run. At best, her choice of husband will be badly restricted giving her less chance to marry a guy who isn't an asshole.

Suddenly, a pair of guys in black cloaks appear! One is a hot seventeen year old. Gemma is all "but I'm not supposed to think such things about Indians!" Haha oh Gemma, imprinting wins those things, always. You're probably going to make out with him before the end of the book. (I have heard lesbians are involved here but I've also heard a girl's school is involved here, so I'm assuming it's going to be more like straight bored girls flirting until some guy manages to get past the teachers).

The other guy who ran into them is playing up how he's just a dumb clumsy ignorant Indian, nothing to see here!

He whispers low to my mother in perfectly accented English. “Circe is near.”

I'm not sure what perfectly accented English is. If it's British, wouldn't it be considered unaccented to Gemma? Is she contrasting British-people-in-India vs British-people-fresh-from-London, with the London type being the perfect accent? If so, wouldn't it make more sense to be more like "oh shit why does the Indian guy sound like he's fresh from London?" than just that his accent's the good one? Or does she mean the English is perfect but accented?

Anyway her mom freaks and says that she'll be going the rest of her way on her own, Gemma doesn't need to come with her to visit their friend after all, birthday cake can happen afterward, see you later Gemma!

Gemma is confused and doesn't want to, and it turns out she's a moron because when her mom says it's just because Gemma's in such a bad mood she believes it.

I am an embarrassment and a disappointment. A daughter she does not want to take anywhere, not London or even the home of an old crone who makes weak tea.

If Gemma hadn't heard what he told her mother I could buy this, but she just heard a mysterious stranger whisper something mysterious to her mother than was apparently a huge deal!

Then her mom gives Gemma her special moon necklace that Gemma's always loved and says she'll see her back at the house, but Gemma's still upset so she says she hopes she never sees her mother again and then runs off.

So yeah, her mom's gonna die.

Next chapter, Gemma promptly gets lost. She doesn't recognize where she is and apparently she's never been out on her own before. Also, she can barely speak the language. (...shouldn't she have gotten it just by osmosis by now? And she understood cobra guy fine.) She feels bad already and wants to go back to apologize, but how?

She tries asking but the guy she talks to sees the necklace and freaks. Despite the part where he gestures at it specifically, she decides to just assume he hates her.

And then it starts to rain? Well, it's June, which is right around the rainy period, through she's been whining about how dusty it is. Let's assume it's right at the start of June.

Suddenly, Hot Indian Boy appears! Gemma promptly slips and falls, making herself obvious. Then she starts getting scared because she knows that sometimes terrible things happen to women on their own that ruin their lives forever.

She gets up and decides to run, but then goes for fainting instead. She's still coherent enough to talk about how very, very pretty Hot Indian Boy and his long eyelashes are as she collapses, though. And it seems her worries about her virtue may be unfounded, because Hot Indian Boy looks upset by the fainting instead of happy she won't make a fuss.

On the other hand, Hot Indian Boy seems to know what's going on, which is ominous, and says that whatever it is is happening. That wasn't useful, Hot Indian Boy! Be more specific.

Gemma's life flashes before her eyes, all the way back to before she was born which sort of irritates me when I think about it, and then she's back in India but now floaty and without a body. She sees this monkey from earlier and decides to follow it across the rooftops.

He hops onto another roof. A shop where dried herbs hang from the eaves and a small moon-and-eye symbol—the same as on my mother’s necklace—is affixed to the door. A woman comes quickly up the sloping street. A woman with red-gold hair, a blue dress, white gloves. My mother. What is my mother doing here?

Looking for Gemma, it seems.

She goes into the store, apparently unaware that the black cloaked Indian who doesn't have the lovely, lovely eyelashes is stalking her. Stalking her with a knife.

Then Gemma realizes black cloak guy is terrified, and then some shadows in the shop start moving and eat him, and then finally her mom realizes and sees what's going on and grabs the guy's knife, and then she says Gemma's name again and stabs herself instead of the shadow.

And suddenly she's back in her body screaming and thrashing while Hot Indian Guy tries to hold onto her. He wants to know what she just saw and did she see his brother. Unfortunately for him, Gemma really wants to kick him and then go find her mom, so she does.

This is so much better than the Summoning. Yes, Gemma did just avoid a chance to find out some plot stuff, but she kicked someone, ran away, and then found the shop instead of standing there like an idiot doing nothing and then forgetting the whole affair.

A deep red pool of blood widens and flows beneath her lifeless body. It seeps into the dusty cracks in the earth, reminding me of the pictures I’ve seen of Kali, the dark goddess, who spills blood and crushes bone. Kali the destroyer. My patron saint.

Uh...sorta? Kali pictures do tend to involve a dead body, but the focal point is Kali standing on it, and it's not the only time people draw pictures with dead bodies.

Anyway so she kneels in the blood and starts screaming. And that's the end of the Indian section! Unless we go back again later on.

So. The other Indian guy who's presumably the brother of the hot seventeen year old was trying to kill the mom. And there was a black thing that can kill people around. And the mom then killed herself with the knife the guy was going to use.

So, one option is that he was there to kill her but she wanted him to, but it seems weird he'd be stalking her. But that might explain why she didn't notice him, maybe she did and Gemma was just assuming it was stalking and he was there to stab her as soon as the black thing showed up. But that seems really impractical given the black thing ended up eating him, so now there's two dead people instead. I had the impression from the way he's showing up on his own and apparently well-educated that they were more equal than the typical Indian-British relationship, but if he could be risked to let her run around slightly longer it seems he's worth a lot less than her.

Maybe the black thing isn't normally that badass? So his death was a stroke of unusually bad luck, and it was possible she could have survived, instead of her definitely going to die shortly and him taking a huge personal risk by delaying killing her.

He could also have just been there to murder her more normally but he went through the trouble of announcing he was there to her and she doesn't seem to have taken any precautions to avoid getting stabbed, so it seems she was sort of on board with this.

Unless the knife really was for the black thing. But then her mom should have at least tried stabbing it instead of herself.

No matter what if her mom knew enough about the black thing to know she should kill herself if it shows up, it seems weird she wouldn't have a knife of her own.

Eh. I assume we'll later have a full explanation, so I'll table poking this until we get that.


Igloo said...

Yeah, the depiction of India in some media has made me cringe. Going back in and reading The Secret Garden ruined the book for me, because when I was older I realized the less than sensitive portrayal.

Rachel said...

Don't forget the incest.

Rachel said...

Her mum was possessed by the black thing?

C.C. said...

Eh. I would rather have historically accurate racism than some PC "Oh, whatever are you talking about? White people have been racially sensitive buddies with all of their fellow races of man! LOLOLOL!" 

Although in this case, it comes off as more of the writer than Gemma's British worldview, since Libba Bray is playing to stereotypes so heavily.Why does every depiction of India have some blind guy? I swear, every time I read a book or watch a movie that has even a small amount of time in India, they mention some blind Indian man. 

"A wild Hot Indian Guy appeared!"
"Gemma used Faint Attack!"
It's not very effective...

Farla said...

No, she killed herself when it showed up.

Farla said...

There actually isn't any sign of viewpoint racism besides that she's not supposed to look at Indian boys. I'd say this is the worst of both worlds - a character getting portrayed as non-racist and perfect while the story itself portrays the stereotypes as just fact.

Act said...

Oh, good, this will be full of Greek mythos references to make me angry.

Also, it's nice to see actual action, but the opening was very confusing. It seemed a little polar opposite-- not much setup, just thrown right in. Of course, that could come from reading it secondhand.

Ember said...


Farla said...

I don't think it's really better writing and it is choppy in places. It's just a nice change from fucking Chloe and her decision to just sit and stare at the walls all day.

Gen said...

Actually, it might be possible for her to not know the language. India has many languages respective to region. So it could be that she knows only Hindi, but is currently staying in a region where Hindi is not spoken. Maybe cobra guy is part of a migrant community that speaks Hindi but not the local language. Does the book mention exactly which part of India she's in? 'Cause if it does, I can verify whether this is accurate.

Farla said...

No, she says it's just that her Hindi is bad. She's in Bombay, which does have a bunch of different languages spoken, but she seems to think that everyone will understand her if she manages to speak in Hindi (and that no one at all will understand English, even on the level of "I am a confused white girl speaking Englishy sounds and looking lost, pointing me at someone who speaks English would help! Perhaps I wandered away from the marketplace?") She also says that when the people speak and she can't understand them it's because it's a dialect she's not familiar with, not a different language.

I think the author just thinks Hindi is the Indian language.