The last time I read Danielle Steel, I was thirteen years old. But of course I’ve been aware of her as a publishing phenomenon – millions devour her books, and although they say “Fiction” on the spine, for lots of people, romance means Steel. That’s why I volunteered to review The Kiss.
Isabelle Forrester is a lovely Frenchwoman whose husband, Gordon, is one of Europe’s most important bankers. Isabelle is beautiful, wealthy, and chic, but Gordon is an emotionless tyrant, and her son, Teddy, is handicapped and requires constant care. Isabelle maintains a secret, long-distance relationship with Bill Robinson, a fabulously rich American political mover-and-shaker. Bill is also married, to a distant, resentful woman who cheats on him.
Isabelle takes a vacation to London, where she meets Bill. They jet-set around (much description here of the clothes they wear, the wines they drink, and the actors, supermodels, and politicians who go to the same restaurants). Eventually they confess their love for one another. But Bill can’t get divorced because he fears it will ruin his political career (although why anyone should care, since he doesn’t actually plan to run for office, I don’t know). More compellingly, Isabelle can’t get divorced because she fears that the cruel Gordon will take Teddy from her or maybe even deny him the medical care he needs. Isabelle and Bill agree to part, share one bittersweet kiss – and are promptly hit by a bus. (At this pivotal moment in the book I burst out laughing.)
Horribly injured, and presumably not still locked at the lips, they are rushed to the hospital. They slowly recover, but both have lots of issues to deal with besides their physical health.
The first thing about this book that immediately leapt to my notice was that it appears to be completely unedited. Apparently, when you’ve sold 500 million copies, your publishers no longer feel the need to tamper with your prose. That’s too bad, since The Kiss is almost entirely written in childish run-on sentences like this one:
“In the end, it was not so much Gordon who had broken her heart and destroyed her faith, because she expected nothing of him anymore, and hadn’t in years, but Bill had hurt her more, because she had truly loved and trusted him.”
It isn’t just Steel’s grammar that could use a touch of the red pencil. The book’s first chapter is a repetitious, unorganized mess. The author wanders around from subject to subject, frequently circling back to repeat things she already told you. I itched to cut and paste paragraphs to make the chapter flows in a direction, rather than just looping around like that. The rest of the book has better structure than that first chapter, but throughout the book, Steel doesn’t show you anything: she tells you, over and over again. If at any point you wonder whether Gordon is cold or if Isabelle is concerned about Teddy, just hang on for a few pages and you can be sure that Steel will tell you about it again soon.
When you read a sentence like “Everyone who talked to him genuinely admired him,” you know you can say goodbye to whatever hope you’d had of character development. Isabelle is a heroine in the beautiful, self-sacrificing, silently-suffering mode. She has no flaws of any kind and I was expected to admire her dignity, but instead I was aggravated by her total passivity in the face of her husband’s infidelity and cruelty. The author tried to make Bill a complex character – he has his share of flaws and regrets to go along with his brilliance, good looks, riches, and charm – but her method of telling instead of showing made him no more interesting than a Ken doll.
I confess, I enjoyed the first third of The Kiss. It’s undemanding and sweet, with no tension or moral uncertainty to stir the brain cells. And it’s often funny – I think not intentionally. Bill and Isabelle have no discernible senses of humor themselves, but anyone who’s ever spent time in the hospital should be entertained by depictions of the romantic doctors who wheel Bill’s bed into Isabelle’s room at night so that, even unconscious, they can be near one another.
But the repetitious writing contributes to a severe case of the slows, which sets in about halfway through and never lets up. I was bored to tears, as nothing continues to happen throughout the entire middle section of the book. Things started to pick up in the end, but only because of actions that Bill takes while wallowing in a truly nauseating state of self-pity.
The Kiss offers shallow characters and a melodramatic plot. In an odd way, there’s almost something hypnotic about this type of book, which can be a nice and mindless comfort read, as relaxing as a hot bath. I do not recommend, however, that if you choose to read this book, that you take it into the bath. After all, you’re apt to fall asleep from boredom and drown.