As part of my very slow effort to clear out books that I’m never going to read, I’ve been going through all the cabinets and cupboards where books had been squirreled away (in case of the End of Days when no more books are published). Yesterday’s bunch: a basket of categories that I *think* I bought at a library sale, since a couple of them have old library barcodes or “discard” stamps. A lot of older Harlequin romances, a few newish but battered mass market paperbacks. Given the receipt stuck in the one new book in the basket, the contents have been undisturbed since 2006, which is hugely embarrassing to me.
Song of Love by Rachel Elliot caught my attention because although it appears to be (relatively) contemporary, the hero on the cover is wearing a kilt. And I wondered, are kilts worn often in Scotland today? In America, kilts are most often seen at Scottish festivals and as fine men’s wear at weddings — but I’m never sure if that sort of thing is just an American longing for old country traditions or if it has a contemporary counterpart in Scotland. @McVane said that yes, ceremonial kilts are sometimes worn for events and balls. So then I had to read this contemporary Scotland-set romance, just to see why/when the hero wore a kilt.
She was stranded at Castle Mackenzie
And it would have been a lovely place to be stranded — except for the presence of its unnerving young laird, Roddy Mackenzie!
Claire couldn’t fault his hospitality and his infectious good humor. But his teasing, suggestive comments, the gleam in his beguiling eyes and his undeniable charm were hard to resist.
She was more than tempted. A woman whose profession strangely spelled loneliness, she could use some honest affection. Trouble was, she feared that when Roddy learned who she really was, he’d feel nothing for her but contempt…
Okay, that is a ridiculous blurb. Laird? Roddy is the younger son and co-owner of the castle; he’s basically a farmer. Is the usage of “laird” accurate? I don’t know, but it seems to imply (to me) a measure of control and influence that was absent. The lonely profession? Claire is a singer, just starting out, and she specializes in romantic old ballads. She assumes Roddy won’t appreciate that since he says outright to her that he thinks the romanticization of Bonnie Prince Charlie is and was a waste of time and resources.
The answer to my original question about why/when the hero wore a kilt: for a house party that wasn’t particularly formal or official. Whatever. That was perhaps the least irritating thing about this book. Roddy was a rapetastic asshat and Claire was a spineless wimp.
Roddy “rescues” Claire when her car breaks down, and takes her home to the castle. Which of course has a crusty old retainer, Mrs. MacPhee. There’s some “ladding” and “lassing” but no ochs or naes. Claire finds the entire episode romantic, while as a reader I was completely creeped out by his behavior: he enters her room without permission, invades her space, touches her mouth, all within the first hour of knowing her. There’s hospitality and there’s overstepping, and as a single female who travels alone, his behavior made alarms scream for me — get out, go to a hotel, catch a train, do not hang around at the castle. But apparently Claire has no personal space issues and was completely okay with all that.
Later that evening, when spooked by a dog in her room, Claire runs out into the hall and collides with Roddy, who takes the opportunity to ogle her skimpy nightgown and to grope her before sending her back to bed. The next morning includes Roddy knowing better than Claire what she wants for breakfast (coffee vs. a full plate of food), followed by horse-riding and an interrupted interlude engineered by a dismount. He casually dismisses the near-public sex and she complains of being half-raped (despite her enthusiastic participation) when she’s miffed by his dismissal. He’s pretty condescending generally, too, calling her a dense woman, etc. Claws and cat characteristics and adjectives are used to describe Claire’s potential romantic rival and also by Roddy when he’s chiding or criticizing Claire.
Eventually Roddy informs Claire that her car will take a week to fix — the part has to come from Glasgow. That seemed odd to me and I made a note…but it turns out to have been a complete lie by Roddy: the car was fixed the first day and he just wanted to keep her around. Until, of course, he realizes that she’s a scheming, manipulative, fame-chasing whore who intentionally broke down on his land to get a chance to meet his brother, Liam (co-owner of the castle), who also happens to be a big time London talent agent.
Cue the accusation and bitter words on his part, plus a nasty dinner party (in which he wore the kilt) followed by the rape* of the heroine and her escape back to Aberdeen, where she continues to sing and to write what readers are told is a heartbreaking song of love, her Song for Roddy. Who later appears and bitches at her more about his brother, rescues her from a stranger rape and then wants to be rewarded with sex, while laughing and saying that what he’d done to her wasn’t rape. Readers get a teeny bit of Roddy’s POV at this point: he’s still bitter about her “treachery”, and “she’d deserved [being raped and rejected]”, and “she’d asked for everything he’d handed out to her.” He’d been right to punish her for what she’d done to him, he thinks to himself.
Later, after he sees her sing in the theater, he realizes that he can’t live without her. Also, a reporter who interviewed her before she met Roddy informs Roddy that she is ambivalent about fame and pursuing a career in London. This information from a third party is MUCH MORE reliable than actually talking to her like a reasonable human being and asking her what was going on, of course! So he stalks her after she’s told him to leave her be, manhandling his way into her home and seducing her without ever apologizing. And she lets him back into what she thinks of as his “rightful place”! All she says is “you must never doubt me again.”
OMGWTFBBQ? No apology? Taking the word of someone else rather than hers? And it’s just, okay, let’s have sex and I’ll give up my budding career and we’ll live happily ever after? Doormat!
The fame-chasing accusation is particularly ironic since Claire has mentally wibbled about pursuing a singing career — her agent is pushing her to go to London to get more exposure but isn’t sure she wants to — but of course only the reader knows that. Actually, the thing I found most frustrating about Claire was her wibbling and her waste of her talent.
Let’s see, there was a chauvinist, rapist hero and a bland, indistinct heroine, and the tropes included: country living is better than city living; Scotland is better than England; living in obscurity is better than seeking fame; better to waste talent than to use it; etc. I can’t decide if this book is just a product of the 80s, or if it would have been just as offensive to readers then.
I’ve decided not to donate this book — I wouldn’t want to contaminate any other reader’s mind with the offensive mess. Also, it pissed me off so much I ripped it in half (down the spine).
* The text of the book makes it clear. She is asleep in her room. He enters and climbs into her bed, and when she partially wakes, she is “still half drugged from brandy and sleep.” Afterward, he thanks her for keeping her side of the bargain and appreciates her being so accommodating, and being willing to use the casting couch.