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Stephen R. Donaldson, The Mirror of Her Dreams (1986) -- Pulled into another dimension by the good-hearted oaf, a young woman tries to navigate court politics in a kingdom on the verge of dissolution.

Oh man, this book was my jam when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and in retrospect, it's because I hadn't yet discovered romance novels (or Internet porn), so this represented the outer limits of literary Kink for me. The Mirror of Her Dreams was, to me, what Forever Amber or Clan of the Cave Bear or Flowers in the Attic were to other thirteen-year-old readers. Bonus: The Mirror of Her Dreams does not have any "actual" (i.e. penetrative) sex, so it managed to titillate and excite thirteen-year-old me without tipping me over into prudish outrage.

So, when I read this book now and note all the BDSM elements and eighties-romance-genre tropes, I'm willing to concede that my own youthful relationship with the novel may be coloring my interpretation. But, also, I'm inclined to think that Author Donaldson is engaging pretty deeply with his personal id. I've never read Lord Foul's Bane all the way through (I think I got to the Signature Rape Scene and then bailed) or his Gap books, but The Mirror of Her Dreams feels...well, on one hand, as if Donaldson is trying to do something somewhat light and commercial (in a mid-eighties publishing universe) but also as if he's way into the kind of genre books that get read by women (in a mid-eighties publishing universe). The Mirror of Her Dreams seems steeped in lady fiction -- big-haired bodice-rippers in particular. The protagonist Terisa is the POV character for most of the book; she's surrounded by women (princesses and serving maids) who have their own ambitions and motivations and who frequently function as Terisa's antagonists in various political maneuvers.

The Mirror of Her Dreams passes the Bechdel test. I just can't imagine that anyone would consider it (at least in today's climate) as a particularly feminist work.

The aspect of the novel that has aged the most poorly is the passivity of our heroine, who starts the novel as unloved and traumatized and then spends the entire novel self-consciously thinking about how passive she is: "As she studied his intent expression, Terisa caught a glimpse of what made him so accident-prone. He was too many things at once--a boy, a man, and everything in between -- and the differing parts of himself seldom came into balance. She found him attractive in that way. Yet the perception saddened her; she herself wasn't too many things, but too few" [52] and "If she wanted to live, she would have to do something to save herself -- shout for help, jump to her feet and flee into the secret passages of Orison, something. Yet she remained lost, unable to understand why anyone would attack her with such hate, unable to move" [97] and "The idea made her shiver. What did he mean? Something intimate and presumptuous -- but what? Her mind remained stubbornly blank on the question. How would he touch her? What emotions would he draw out of her? She was too ignorant: ignorant of men, of course, but also of herself" [169-170]

As that last quotation suggests, Terisa's passivity has a particularly sexual element: dudes want to bone her, and she blinks back at them in puzzlement, and that just inflames them further. This is the part of the novel that seems the most...indicative of the kind of ritualistic domination (and rape) that was part and parcel of romance novels in the eighties. (I.e. the Duke of Whatever vigorously rapes his governess, who obviously resists (because virtue and purity gotta go hand in hand), but after he takes consent off the table, she realizes that she likes sex and everyone lives happily ever after, rinse lather and repeat.) Reading The Mirror of Her Dreams, I kept wondering if Author Donaldson was mocking some of these tropes, because Terisa's relationship with the sexily villainous Master Eremis is asymmetrical to the point of absurdity: "He was tall, strongly built in spite of his leanness. His nose was too big; his cheekbones were too narrow, too flatly sloped toward his ears; his black hair formed an unruly thatch on the back of his skull, leaving his forehead bald. But the humor and intelligence in his pale eyes made him keenly attractive. He was wrapped in a jet cloak, which he wore with an air of insouciance. The ends of his chasuble hung as if he might start twirling them at any moment [29-30] and "When he was that close to him, his physical impact on her dominated everything else. He gave off a slight scent of perspiration and cloves, and she could feel muscle working over bone under his jet cloak." [190-191]

(Let us pause for a moment to savor that fucking image. The muscle over his bone under his cloak? How many layers of matter can Terisa feel? Does she just have a hand clamped down hard on the fabric as she purrs, "Yesssss, the muscle, the booooone, yes"? Dear Reader, I know we're supposed to be breathless at the idea of Eremis's corporeal dominance -- so many muscles, such bones! -- but I don't know how you can read a sentence like that without laughing.)

(Also a winner of a sentence: "Framed by her pale skin and the short crop of her bale blond hair, her violet eyes flashed vividly." [145])

Eremis spends a lot of time trying to have sex with Terisa. Most of these attempts involve a) licking her mouth and b) hardening her nipples:

"His tongue stroked her lips, giving her a taste of kisses she had never experienced." [195]

"His hand slipped inside her shirt. His fingers were cold, bringing her nipples erect at once, making her breasts ache for him." [379]

"A strong mouth covered hers. A tongue stroked her lips, probing delicately between them. She tasted cloves. Under the blankets, a hand caressed her belly, then moved up to her breasts. Its touch was just cool enough to make her nipples harden." [579]

Meanwhile, Terisa's maid Saddith has super-bountiful breasts:

"To hide a smirk, she glanced down at her unbuttoned blouse, the cloth stretched open by the pressure of her breasts." [164]

"...Saddith sailed grandly into the room like a yacht on show, the lower buttons of her blouse straining to contain her breasts." [339]

"Saddith glanced down at her tight bosom." [437]

"As usual, Terisa's eyes were drawn to Saddith's open blouse and bursting breasts. She made an effort to raise her head so that she felt less like she was talking to Saddith's chest." [547]

Admittedly, Saddith is also boning Eremis, so Terisa feels a lot of sexual envy and curiosity toward her, which explains some of the breast-heavy focus of the Saddith scenes -- but I also suspect that, you know, the gratuitous degree of breast-descriptions in this novel don't always have a lot of strictly literary motivations.

Rounding out this collection of id-tacular elements: the captain of the castle guard is simultaneously suspicious of and aroused by Terisa, and there's a fun interlude where he punches her and threatens her. (In the sequel, this escalates to rape threats, oh boy!)

So it's pretty obvious why Pubescent Me, who had not read a lot of literary depictions of fucking, would have eaten this novel up with a spoon. Two decades later, after having read a lot more literary depictions of fucking -- some written by actual women!!! -- I find The Mirror of Her Dreams to be rather weak gruel in that regard.

And yet. There's one male character who isn't forever creeping on Terisa, and that's Geraden, the puppy-ish young man who drags Terisa into Weird Narnia, where absolutely everyone despises him. Geraden is brave and virtuous and good-hearted; Geraden adores Terisa and puts absolutely no demands on her. And he's not an insufferable paragon either; his fuck-ups are what motivate most of the plot of the novel, which prevents him from tumbling down a Will-Ladislaw-from-Middlemarch hellhole. He's meant to be the third leg of the Terisa-Eremis-Geraden love triangle, and so while Eremis spends all his time twirling his chausable/mustache, his foil spends that time being nice to Terisa.

And this is the part that makes me wonder if Donaldson is maybe trying to do something subversive with Romance Novel Tropes -- because in that genre, Eremis -- powerful and virile and maybe keeping a mad wife in his attic -- would be the Romantic lead, while Geraden would be the red-herring runner-up, the Beta Male, the Duckie from Pretty in Pink. But in The Mirror of Her Dreams, Eremis is just sort of slimy and gross, and Geraden is charming and sweet. Thirteen-year-old me found him charming and sweet; Jaded Current Me still finds him charming and sweet -- even in a novel with zero subtlety and little nuance. I am hard-pressed to think of another literary character that I would rather invite to my birthday party. Geraden is just swell -- which is a weird thing to encounter in a novel with all these clunky, kinky elements.


Jun. 17th, 2017 02:06 pm
proustbot: (Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky)
Oh boy, it occurs to me that I never tallied up all the audiobooks to which I spent last year listening.

Neverwhere, Mansfield Park, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, The Martian, and Bossypants )
proustbot: (asia at odd hours)
I saw The Wedding Plan yesterday with Zane and Betty and J. It was cute. I liked it. (Zane tells me that the fish-smearing scene is not normal practice.)

I also saw Wonder Woman with Bear et al. It was...okay? Decidedly less amazing than the euphoric reviews made it seem, though. I think movie reviewers are just really, really bummed out by the Batman/Superman movies, and they're so desperately relieved to see a fun, Disney-esque film that their critical apparatuses are not functioning at peak power. However, I am reminded -- once again -- how much I enjoy movies in which buff ladies beat up men.

Alias Grace, The Rivers of London, and A Writer in the Kitchen )
proustbot: (chidi)
My roommate is gone for the weekend, which means that I'm considering the luxurious, decadent possibilities of ordering take-out and mopping the kitchen floor.

Summers at Castle Auburn, Black Powder War, and Unraveling Isobel )
proustbot: (but hearts are earned)
I solved my stale-bread conundrum by making pappa al pomodoro. I used this NYTimes recipe -- mainly because it looked dead-simple -- and basically just threw onions, bread, stock, and canned tomatoes together, and then used my immersion blender for improved consistency.

And it was fucking fantastic.

Soulless and A Madness of Angels )
proustbot: (the best hill driven by black wine)
I deleted most of my entries at the old haunts this week. It feels satisfying, although I'm sad to lose it as a mirror archive.

I had a weirdly successful Yuletide.

I've been playing quite a lot of Dragon Age: Inquisition and, since I'm nearing the end-game, decided to embark on the DLC. Good News: Jaws of Hakkon is quite meaty and fun. Bad News: The Descent and Trespasser aren't...available for the Xbox 360. But, on the other hand, it definitely means that I will finish the game during this break, a mere six months after I started playing.

The Seventh Bride, The Orphan's Tale, Last Call, and The Bloodline Feud )
proustbot: (led by your beating heart)
It has been a rough week, but we endure.

Chalice, Outsider in Amsterdam, and Murder by Installment )
proustbot: (Butterfly)
For our Last Night in Europe, my brother and I went to the IMAX theatre next to our hotel and watched Star Trek Beyond. Verdict: we liked it; hurray for giving Karl Urban things to do.

King of Thieves, The River Kings' Road, How to Stay Alive in the Woods, and An Everlasting Meal )
proustbot: (I put new Blossoms in the Glass)
Today I ate a pastry filled with chocolate which, according to its packaging, had lots of valuable nutrition for small children. Suuuuure, Spain.

Throne of Jade, SPQR, and Rose Daughter )
proustbot: (led by your beating heart)
Today, a strange woman took such pity on my sad and weary state that she gave me a free Maxibon ice-cream sandwich.

Ancillary Mercy, The Time of the Hunter's Moon, and The Prophecy Con )
proustbot: (the face of all the world is changed)
If my time in Rome has taught me anything, it's that green tomatoes and mozzarella cheese are the way that God intended for sandwiches to be made.

Masterminds, A Morbid Taste for Bones, and Snow Crash )
proustbot: (Default)
I saw X-Men: Apocalypse last week. I did not hate it -- but, of course, I have a deep fondness for stylized eighties nonsense.

Dragon Age: Last Flight, His Majesty's Service, and Ancillary Sword )
proustbot: (clint eastwood)
I saw Captain America: Civil War last night. (It was fine!) Midway through the credits, the group with us left the theater, and Wife A. and I shrugged at each other and settled down to watch the rest of the credits.

When we walked out of the theater and found them waiting for us, my heart literally fell, because I knew that they wanted to make contemptuous comments about low-brow pop culture and summer blockbusters. (Bear and Veronica did not disappoint in this regard.)

Wife A. glanced at me. "I'm summoning an Uber!" she chirped. "We'll be out of here in five minutes!"

It was a very long five minutes.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and The Name of the Rose )
proustbot: (Default)
STROMAE: "Why so morose, dude?"

ME: "What? Am I?"

STROMAE: "You have the face of a sad locomotive."

Norwegian Wood and Uprooted )
proustbot: (But it was she and not the sea we heard)
Wife A. decided to jaunt home for a few days, so I'm feeding her cat, Smallsie. Smallsie's name is ironic; he is a massive orange tabby cat. His shape can best be described as "bowling ball perched on tiny, dainty feet." He's not soft or squidgy at all; to pet Smallsie is to pet a dense, hard-packed body with an iron-like musculature.

So last night, after Ze Bar with Wife A. and the Dude and Lockwood (and after I dodged out on drinks with Thornton and Vidalia), I stumbled home to feed Smallsie. While he ate, I turned on You've Got Mail, and after ten minutes, Smallsie climbed up on my belly ("Oh, god," I groaned, "right on the breast...!") and proceeded to make bread on my brand-new T-shirt with tiny pricks of his dainty claws.

This morning, I drowsily repeated the process. We've now reached the part in You've Got Mail where Tom Hanks is about to discover Meg Ryan is the woman with whom he's been anonymously corresponding.

The Tombs of Atuan and All She Was Worth )
proustbot: (Default)
VIDALIA: "Hey, have I told you about last week's assignment for my Portuguese class?"

ME: "Nope."

VIDALIA: "I had to write a letter, as a mother, to my son Chico, who has dropped out of university to pursue his dreams of being a sculptor."

ME: "Okay."

VIDALIA: "I think I was supposed to write a comforting and supportive letter? Telling him to follow his dreams? Instead, I told him that he was a disappointment to his family, that we wished he could be more like his industrious elder siblings, who are respectively a lawyer and a doctor, and that we would be disowning him immediately. Immediately!"

ME: "Huh."

VIDALIA: "I'm still waiting to get my assignment back and see how this approach went over with the professor."

Bridge of Birds, Agent to the Stars, and Sunshine )
proustbot: (Default)
We're reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for a semester-long book club. We're up to Chapter 10. So far, Childermass is my favorite character. Obviously.

The Winter of Enchantment, Balanced on the Blade's Edge, El capitán Alatriste, and Cinder )
proustbot: (the best hill driven by black wine)
I went home for a little while and finished a "evil/pragmatic playthrough" on Dragon Age: Origins. Because I was playing without a walkthrough, I managed to alienate Wynne and had to kill Shale, and then I obviously lost Alistair when I recruited Loghain. My final party: so small, so dour. (Also, Bioware did...very little to make Loghain an appealing companion.) My Dwarf Prince Dude romanced Morrigan (after sleeping with Leliana and Zevran) and happily participated in her Dark Rite. Also, because I was merrily ignoring side quests, it only took ~25 hours.

I also played Catherine, which I loved. I played without a walkthrough and managed to get the "Katherine True" ending, if that tells you anything about me. (I am all about Order! And block puzzles!)

Soy Sauce for Beginners, The Drowned World, Gaudy Night, and Starship Grifters )
proustbot: (clint eastwood)
VIDALIA: "Yeah, there's a museum in Wellington, and I missed going on a school trip there three different times. The first time I was sick. The second time I forgot to get my permission slip signed. The third time I overslept."

ME: "Wait. Your school went to this museum three different times?"

VIDALIA: [uneasily] "Well, yeah, I mean--"

ME: "By the third time, were your classmates giving the tour themselves? Were they docents?"

VIDALIA: "I think you may not appreciate the limited field-trip opportunities that Wellington possesses."

The Palace Job, Expendable, Operation Mincemeat, and The Hot Rock )


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