Skip to main content

Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, by Lauren Willig

It’s 1803, and the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian have wowed Europe with their daring exploits. Amy Balcourt is a twenty-year-old, adventurous English girl who, in joining the League of the Purple Gentian, wishes to become a spy herself. She, along with her cousin Jane and their escort Miss Gwen, go to France, where they meet Lord Richard Selwick, also known as the Purple Gentian. A case of confused identities ensues in a bad parody of good spy fiction.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is, first and foremost, chick lit, with historical accuracy taking a backseat. For someone who was supposed to be so smart, she behaved like a twit sometimes—for example, thinking that another character (a well-known rake) is the Purple Gentian, she makes an assignation with him in a dark, secluded space. I thought it was also rather ridiculous that she really didn’t know who the Purple Gentian was until the last minute. The prose of this book is also laughable: when talking about her “feelings” for the Purple Gentian (who she’s only met twice at the time this passage occurs, and both times when his face was covered), Amy thinks: “Oh, but she had been so sure of her feelings for the Gentian! And of his for her. His promise of a necklace of stars had seemed to be a sort of divine seal of approval, marking him out as her official, one and only true love.” Please. Like anyone could be so naive. I only continued reading to find out if Amy would learn from her mistakes. She never did.

The spies don’t seem to sneak around all that much; at one point Lord Richard emerges from the front door of his house in his disguise. He also seems to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at Amy’s behind; in one part, the book literally becomes a bodice-ripper, heavy panting and bad sexual innuendoes included. The politics of the period, and the court of Napoleon, seem like a trip to Disney World. The characters all have modern day behavior and speech patterns. For example, at that time a man would never call a woman by her first name if she wasn’t related to him.
With regards to Eloise, the graduate student who writes her thesis on the Pink Carnation, I found it hard to believe that she couldn't figure out who the Pink Carnation was sooner. Eloise's story seemed like a rude, unwelcome interruption into the main narrative.

Comments

Terri B. said…
I had this one with me on a recent train trip and it was perfect for that. I must agree with your comments though! Fun read but ...
Trish said…
Sounds like it could have been good... I read the Scarlet Pimpernel last year for a classics challenge and enjoyed it despite the obvious plot.
Stephanie said…
I just read this book for my book club and will be posting a review soon. Even though you have some valid points, some of the things that irked you didn't bother me one bit. I just looked at it as a really fun read.
Nicole said…
Your review is very well done. I, too, recently read this one for my book club.

I agree that it was rather obvious who the Pink Carnation was. Not much of a mystery there.

I have to say, I enjoyed the bad sexual innuendo. It was quite amusing.

Overall, I found this to be a fun read. Not the best book ever, but I'd recommend it for a light read.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…