Turgenev’s Toadstool

February 26, 2008

My mother and I have noticed a worrisome trend emerging over the past few years. Books with names of famous authors, musicians, or just plain thinkers prominently displayed in their titles, as though some of the magic would rub off through contact with great thought. Flaubert’s Parrot and Foucault’s Pendulum are early examples of this, permissible because Julian Barnes and Umberto Eco are pretty great in their own right. Also, apparently, because F’s P. is a fun way to abbreviate things. Recently, though, this phenomenon has reached critical levels. Even The Da Vinci Code fits into this category, which should be reason enough to understand why this trend is… troublesome, to say the least. The current offender is Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story. In it, as far as I can tell from the back cover, our dashing heroine strives to disprove Tolstoy’s saying about happy families. Does that make anyone else’s stomach turn just the tiniest bit?

The worst offenders, though, have all been found in the group of books published by people who have read Jane Austen (wish I could find a way to pronounce her name with the proper reverence) and are so very inspired by her genius and her understanding of the human SOUL and her true, compelling descriptions of the TRIALS and TRIBULATIONS of finding ONE’S TRUE LOVE (aiiiiiiiiii… beat chest, tear hair) that they simply feel compelled to either continue the stories, or reinterpret them, or just blatantly write Darcy-p0rn. It wasn’t so bad when it was just modern re-imaginings, or people who plagiarised endlessly from her storylines. The storylines were charming, and lent themselves easily to the reinterpretation. Also, don’t get me wrong– I spent countless hours curled up in various fat armchairs clutching tattered copies of Persuasion and Mansfield Park. I forced the books on my little cousin, and had endless dreamy thoughts about what it would be like to grow up in England at the time, with such a succession of unsuitable bachelors, and such monetary considerations to make, and so many sisters to contend with. And, being a red-blooded heterosexual female, I have also swooned many times over all six hours of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (although, I must confess that the fountain scene never really did much for me), and wished my hair would curl as charmingly as Lizzie’s. Many hours were devoted to pondering why it was that Jane reminded me of a horse. I think it’s the neck, combined with the nose. It gives her a distressingly equine appearance.

My irritation is more with the scores of people who have felt the need to try to sell their books on the merit of the inclusion of relevant words in the title. To wit: The Jane Austen Book Club. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. Me and Mr. Darcy. Austenland. Drive and Determination. Pemberly by the Sea. I would go on, but I’m afraid to know just how many of these books there are. The number of straight-up sequels are also terrifying.

The point is, people, invent your own love stories! Or if you must have a “Darcy-like” character in your writing, have the grace to disguise him, instead of splashing the fact all over the blurb! Have the decency to have the lead female character NOT be reading Jane Austen at the same time that this aloof, despicable, but oh-so-alluring character is around. Helen Fielding had Bridget Jones obsess over the aforementioned Pride and Prejudice BBC version, but she didn’t call the book “Bridget Jones’s Diary: Dreaming of Darcy” or anything like that. Or… just start reading OTHER books! Other writers wrote things too! Why haven’t I seen any “Heathcliffe’s Hoydens” or things along those lines?

Ach. I’ve run out of steam. Or rather, I’ve been distracted by the fact that my little brother is now on facebook, and has joined a number of groups that I judge to he HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE for his tender age. Harrumph. Something else to shake my stick at.

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One Response to “Turgenev’s Toadstool”

  1. Chad said

    I never understood the trend of putting your name on the front of the book as big as the title. It seems to me that if you are a fan of the author then you will know what book they have out and not need the large lettering to point you in the right direction.

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