Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review - Colleen McCullough's Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: August 19th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Edda and Grace, Tufts and Kitty, two sets of twins and all inseparable sisters. While they appear to have a perfect life they are thwarted by conventions and by expectations from their dear mama. Kitty has suffered the worst, being the beauty of the family her outward appearance clashed with her inner retiring nature resulting in several suicide attempts. Edda views it as imperative that they get out from under the thumb of their mother in order that they can have fulfilling lives. Women in Australia can now train to be nurses and the local hospital in Corunda, with the encouragement of the girl's father, is willing to take on the four sisters. It's hard but satisfying work, with all the sisters, save Grace, finding that this could be their true calling. Grace is the first to get married and leave the hospital. It was love at first sight for her and Bear. Soon the girls have to choose between love and a career, or a precarious balance of both. Times are tough and nothing is easy, especially in a world made for men, not women.

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know who Colleen McCullough was. Her book The Thorn Birds was not only a phenomenal bestseller, but the miniseries adaptation was one of my late Uncle's favorite shows ever. This is, of course, the man who bragged my entire life that the last movie he paid to see in theaters was The Name of the Rose and decided that nothing could compare after that so he closed his mind. Despite being a fan of The Name of the Rose, his seal of approval actually had me avoiding The Thorn Birds in any form for my entire life. So, despite knowing all about her, Colleen McCullough has been a part of my life without really being a part of it. Until now. I should have left well enough alone.

Don't let the talented graphic designers fool you by their pretty cover, this book is painfully bad. Rage reading bad. Full of bad cliched writing and stereotypes. Repetitive to the point where I wanted to pull out my hair. Did Colleen ever learn that you shouldn't keep repeating the same words in a paragraph? No she didn't. Or maybe she just has a very tiny vocabulary to go with her tiny mindset on the place of women, more on that to come! Oh, and all love is love at first sight? Seriously? Yet the pinnacle of this atrocious writing is that I got to know the sisters moods very intimately by the color of their eyes. Blurg. Every five seconds it's Kitty's eyes are now sparking violet, Edda's eyes are going green. Are their eyes freaking psychedelic rainbows? In fact, in this relatively short book (despite how long it felt, 352 pages is relatively short) eyes are mentioned 236 times! Eyes are mentioned on 67% of the pages! Just no.

Yet what just got under my skin like an immovable tick was that despite starting this book out with four independent women and an apparent feminist bent it very quickly went on to show that women need men and can rarely handle hard thinking and need a husband to complete them. WTF! Why would you destroy such a strong and powerful message by having each character only find happiness once she was married? These women were trailblazers, fighting to have their own lives away from parents, learning skills often reserved only for men, to then give it all up for what? Men who weren't nice and controlled them? Seriously, what's going on here? Why did this book go to cliches and limp-wristed writing? How can anyone justify saying this to an amazing and competent nurse: "Kitty, life never meant you to be a children's nurse. Your life means you to have children of your own!" Gag me now.

But Kitty's domestic fate isn't the worst held in store for the sisters. Oh no, not by a long shot. That fate belongs to Edda. Edda the invincible. Edda who wanted to be a doctor. Edda who wants to travel and be amazing. What becomes of Edda? She becomes a fag hag. Now I don't mean this derogatorily I'm just saying what is true, this is what Colleen McCullough did to her most powerful character, she made her need a man, but because Edda wanted more she needed a man who wouldn't threaten her sexuality or ambitions. Edda was at a point in her nursing career where she was at the top of her field and was scared to take that leap to be a doctor, despite wanting that originally and being thwarted by an evil step-mother. So truthfully, she could have become a doctor on her own impetus. But it takes her finding a gay politician in need of a wife for her to get to medical school. Seriously, WTF. Even worse, at the end she's obviously fallen in love with her husband and is now trapped in a marriage to a man whose nature can never give her what she now wants. Thanks for destroying the independent Edda in the most vicious and heartbreaking way possible Colleen.

From idiot girls to politics, this book doesn't just go downhill fast, it plunges itself off a cliff. I'm not the biggest fan of politics as it is, Australian politics during the depression? There is no way in hell this will ever interest me that I can think of. What is worse though is by aligning the politics with the most hated character in the book even if the politics didn't bore you to tears you'd grow to hate them because of Charles Henry Burdum. Charlie, I'm going to call him Charlie because he hates it, is the most controlling, possessive, jealous dumb ass with a Napoleon complex to ever be written. I am still baffled that Kitty was somehow bamboozled into marriage with him because from his first appearance in this book I wanted to throw him under the train he road in on. He isn't an anti hero, he is a douche. And in true douche manner he came in and took over the book and what little ray of feeble light that was trying to shine through was blocked out by this diminutive dumbass. But in the end, I hated all the characters, I hated the message, and I definitely hated this book, so I think I should just move on. When's the next boat out of Melbourne?


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