The Corset Diaries
The Corset Diaries takes place during a reality television series set in Victorian times with our heroine playing an American duchess. I love the Victorian era, and adore the theme of American women who married for a title, so I settled down anticipating a wonderful read.
Tessa Riordan is not a typical romance heroine. She’s 39, a widow and wears a size 18. I rejoiced – an atypical romance heroine – and read on. One day, Tessa gets a call from a friend who tells her to drop everything and come to England right now for a job that will pay her $10,000. Since jobs in Tessa’s field (she’s a historian) are not falling into her lap she jumps at the chance to play an American born duchess in a reality show filmed in England. My verdict – so far, so good.
On the flight over, Tessa whines, fusses and carries on like a two year old. I got that “oh no, this is going to be a bad book feeling,” but read on nonetheless. When Tessa finally arrives, the first night out, she gets roaring drunk, which causes her to be sick the next day and throw up all over Max, the architect who is to play the duke to her duchess. Now, I’ve seen characters make a bad first impression – and my impression of Tessa was bad – yet still manage to turn out very likable, so I read on. The next day, Tessa goes for her wardrobe fitting. You’d think a historian would know the wardrobe requirements for the period, but when the actress who plays the lady’s maid brings out her corset, Tessa regresses to toddlerhood and whines like a sullen brat. She had eaten a big breakfast that morning which makes getting into the corset much harder. But it has to be, so Tessa dons the corset and sallies forth to meet the rest of the cast. The combination of too much food and a tight corset cause her to give a loud fart when she bends over to pet a dog. My verdict? Too farcical, but I read on. But when, during a breakfast scene, Tessa lifts the cover, discovers a rusk in one of the dishes, and remarks upon its resemblance to a turd, the book totally lost me. Said remarks went on, and on, and on. From that point I read the book only because I had to.
I like slapstick, and I’m not offended at all by humor that hinges on bodily functions (you should see me laugh at the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles) but I couldn’t stand The Corset Diaries. It crossed over that fine line from farcical and bawdy to gross and disgusting. And Tessa – she was such an infuriating character! She’s a historian, but she’s stupid. She has no idea how people lived in this period at all. She’s 39, but she is so immature. Tessa goes from not wanting to be kissed since that is way too intimate, to giving Max oral sex in about two pages. And since the book is written in the first person, we are never out of her silly head at all.
The other characters are cartoons. The butler is a hypochondriac/drunk, the housemaids rebel at all the hard work (Tessa sneaks in dishwashing soap for them), the housekeeper constantly sees ghosts, and the lady’s maid is a crashing snob. There are a few other characters, but danged if I can remember them and I’m writing this as soon as I finished the book.
Max, the man who plays the duke, is just as silly as Tessa, but we are never in his head so he’s much less annoying. He falls in love/lust with her and pretty soon they are scorching the sheets to the scandal of the servants. The love scenes are pretty steamy but marred by Tessa’s incessantly silly chatter chatter. When she tells him he would look better with a pot belly, I had to put the book down for a long time – who says such a thing, or even thinks that? The divorced Max has a sullen and petulant daughter who wants to learn how to ride a horse, and Tessa obliges. Then Max finds out and pitches a fit because he hates horses since a friend of his was killed while riding. That causes some conflict but lust is strong and pretty soon Tessa and Max are scandalizing the servants again. The rest of the book can be summed up like this: Conflict. Sex. Conflict. Sex. Conflict. Sex. The End.
I love farce, I love slapstick, I love bawdiness. I think I’ll go watch Blazing Saddles and get this book out of my mind. It takes a lot to disgust me, but The Corset Diaries succeeded in spades and if it can gross me out, I shudder to think what it might do to a Gentle Reader.