Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Wild Rose (Spoilers!)

Toto's "Africa" kept popping into my head while reading The Wild Rose and especially while reading Seamie and Willa’s story in The Winter Rose. I guess I thought of it because of the word Kilimanjaro, but actually, all the lyrics are kind of pertinent to Willa's story:

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you (like blaming you for the amputation of my leg. It's over!)
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do (no one can bring back what you took from me. Without my leg, I can't climb. Without climbing, I'm nothing. I want to die.)
I bless the rains down in Africa (those were the good days with you, before I lost my leg. Which, by the way, was your fault)
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had (we never had each other before, but now that I'm back in England after 8 years, lets be together, even though you're married to another)

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company (I'm restless, you're restless. I never stopped loving you, let's forgive each other and be alone together)
I know that I must do what's right (Now your wife knows about us and my brother is disgusted with my adulterous antics. I can't do this. It's over! Again.)
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become (Nothing can cure what I've become. I'm a lonely broken woman without you. Opium, other men, reckless adventuring, suicide attempts...nothing works. Nothing but you.)

Hurry boy, she's waiting there for you (Jennie croaked. Seamie didn't. Go get the girl, Seamie!)

At the end of Winter Rose, Seamus “Seamie” Finnegan is alone in Africa. Willa deserted him, just after they declared their love for each other on a treacherous Mt. Kilimanjaro climb, during which Willa falls and suffers an accident that costs her her leg. Even though Seamie saved her life and carried her broken body down the mountain, across miles of desert and African savannah, she blames him for the loss. She can no longer climb mountains, so she no longer wants to live. She leaves Seamie with just a note and travels to the East to live a solitary life in the Himalayas.

Fast forward to The Wild Rose: Willa has tried to lose herself in opium and in the arms of other lovers for eight years in the shadow of the mountain—Everest—that she will never climb. Seamie has made a name for himself among the most famous of the world’s explorers, but has never gotten over Willa. He hasn’t heard from her in all this time, but he doesn’t want to forfeit living his life, waiting for a damaged woman who will never be his. Seamie meets a sweet girl, convinces himself it's love, and marries her. Of course, Willa returns for her father's funeral mere weeks after Seamie has given his vow of fidelity to another woman.

This was my most anticipated book of 2011. After I inhaled The Tea Rose (loved it) and The Winter Rose (absolutely 5-stars adored it) around Christmas, I've been counting down the days until August 2, for the conclusion of the Rose series. Sometimes the anticipation of something sets you up for disappointment, although in this case, I don't think that was the problem. I just don't think the book was up to the caliber that we expect from Donnelly.

Donnelly weaves huge inter-connected webs in her books, and that's partly why they are so wonderful. She's a master storyteller, and the reader senses that there is a plan all along, that nothing is accidental, that every character, event, and detail is purposeful. Tea and Winter were undeniably centered around a strong heroine. Tea was undoubtedly Fiona's book... The Tea Rose was Fiona's tea room, the culmination of all of Fiona's dreams. Winter was India's story, and Sid called her his "winter rose:" she was as rare as a rose in winter time. But Wild Rose... whose story was it? Willa, the wild rose of the title, because she is... wild? But this didn't feel like her story, or Seamie's. There were so many subplots and secondary characters that got equal time that Seamie and Willa felt as if they were reduced to be secondary characters, themselves. If anything, the book felt more like Max von Brandt's, the German (or English?) agent whose tentacles of espionage spread into every plot line.

Donnelly had the opportunity again to really hit her readers where it hurts: in our hearts. My heart has rarely been so tortured as it was in Winter Rose, when Sid finds India after years of separation in the African desert and greets her simply, "Hello, Mrs. Baxter," after which he weeps with the pain of lost love. (To protect their safety and anonymity, Sid and India rented an apartment in London for their trysts under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Baxter.) Where was that drama and that romance and that love in Wild Rose? I thought Donnelly had a lot of missed opportunities for intimacy and beauty in Seamie and Willa's story. The scene when they first meet together illicitly--Seamie as Jennie's husband and damaged Willa, the other woman--didn't feel real to me. When they were young, they had every reason to think that they would get married and share love and adventures for the rest of their lives. Here they are meeting again as older, different, broken people. No longer innocent, no longer whole, in body or spirit. I wanted confessions and tears and forgiveness and comforting. I wanted Willa to confess that she hadn't waited for Seamie, that she had had many other lovers who didn't mean anything to her. I wanted Seamie to say how he had tried to find Willa, had written her letters and letters. I wanted more details! I wanted them to be tentative and then passionate. I wanted them to feel healed, but guilty. Then I wanted the reader to see Jennie and Seamie interact, when Jennie knew that Seamie was keeping the most painful secret of all. So many missed chances for emotions and real-ness.

The love that Willa and Seamie share is repeatedly called a destructive love, one that will ruin them and all they touch. I don't think Donnelly showed enough evidence of this to warrant that classification. I think it would be more accurate to say that Willa is a destructive force. Willa can ruin herself and has the power to ruin Seamie, but Seamie is about as gentle and good-natured as they come. Their affair does hurt Jennie, but the reference to a destructive love begins far before Seamie's marriage.

The Wild Rose however, presented really complicated and fascinating characters. Most other characters in the trilogy haven't been as rounded: the villain's a villain, the heroine is courageous and self-sacrificing and resilient. But here, in Willa, we have a broken woman, an addict, who hurts just as much as she helps. And the spy, Max, (though the wrap-it-up-with-no-strings-ending annoyed me) is a villain who really genuinely cares about the people he loves--even if he must murder them. For the breadth and depth of a novel that Donnelly attempted, with scenes set in London, Paris, and Arabia, with the multi-faceted characters and huge "cast," several hundred more pages would have helped to flesh the story out in a more satisfying way.

Grade: 3/5

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally Agree! and love the song lyrics ;)