“Psst. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Even though I’ve awarded a grade, Robin Schone’s latest book, The Lover’s, can’t really be explained so easily. This book is not for everybody and that includes some readers who enjoyed her previous, far more romantic book The Lady’s Tutor. While much of The Lover’s is compelling, it’s riskier and more troubling. Nevertheless, I have thought about The Lover’s every day since I put it down, which is why I am recommending it here, albeit with some strong reservations.
The story begins when Anne Aimes, a thirty-six year old virgin spinster, procures, for ten thousand pounds, the services of a beautiful but scarred male prostitute. Anne has dreamed of Michel des Agnes for eighteen years, ever since she watched him dancing with another woman at her London debut. Though it is never stated, she is in love with him.
Michael, or Michel des Anges, as he is called, is eager to please Anne. Five years earlier he was burned in a fire and since then, women have averted their eyes from him. Michael is, in his way as vulnerable as Anne and her desire for him fills a terrible need. He is soon as obsessed with her as she is with him. Indeed, I have never read a hero as sexually aroused by a heroine as this one is, and at times, his constant state of heat stretches credulity.
Anne and Michael are vulnerable and needy, which is what makes the book worth the effort. Much of The Lover’s is about sex, desire, the way that having sex can change a person and the way that one person’s desire can inflame the object of it. What I liked about the book was the no-holds-barred way that it explored the sexual side of the characters. Robin Schone is probably the only writer I know who can pull off a truly graphic scene without making you feel that you need a shower afterwards.
The Lover’s external plot is intentionally mysterious and difficult to follow. Michael believes that he is in danger and that Anne, by being with him, is in danger as well. I’m not going to spoil that plot with the retelling, but things happen in this book that are very gritty and hard to read. The Lover’s is filled with cryptic phrases and hints of coming disaster. Michael seems far too much of a fatalist for a hero. There were many times when I wanted to tell him to get out of bed and do something about his fears instead of waiting for disaster to strike.
Anne starts out as a shy spinster ashamed of her desire and desperate to keep it a secret. After their first night together, Michael asks her to change their arrangement and become his lover for a month. To do this, Anne must move in with Michael, flaunt convention, and stop pretending to be respectable. She does this and Michael presses her as hard as he can to flaunt convention. One day she tells Michael that she is ashamed because anyone seeing them will recognize him and know that she had paid for his services. In reaction to this, Michael takes her onto the street, his erection clearly in evidence so that others will see that his desire is real. Most people do not notice, but one young man does and looks at Anne with admiration.
This is not a scene I would personally want to live through, but that is not the point. Schone is trying to show us the ways in which sex affects us, the way it helps and hinders our self-esteem. This scene, and other similar ones, I’m sure, will be troublesome to many readers. This is why I wasn’t sure how to grade this book. In most romance novels, the writer gives us a fantasy that we would want to live through. In The Lover, Schone has her characters behave in ways that I cannot say would please me, but as in literary fiction, that is not the point.
I was alternately fascinated, annoyed, delighted and disappointed with this book. Whatever it was, it was compelling, as evidenced by the fact that I stayed up reading it until one-thirty in the morning. I wish that the characters of Anne and Michael had talked about a wider range of things. I wanted to know more about them than their roles as “spinster” and “whore.” At the very end of the book, when the mystery was revealed, I wanted a longer and more romantic accounting of the hero and heroine’s feelings for each other and their hopes for the future.
Despite all this, I will remember Anne and Michael long after many other more romantic couples have faded from memory. If this sounds appealing to you buy it, enjoy it and yell at it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
LLB: Because of the upcoming Pandora's Box on this book, we decided against a dual review of this book even though it was also read by Ellen Micheletti. We did, however, ask her for her brief opinion of the book. She says:
The Lover for me was an interesting but very disturbing book. It was well-written and I kept turning the pages, but there were two aspects of the book that bothered me very much. The first was the distancing of the reader from Michael and Anne. So many times they were referred to as "the spinster" and "the whore." It was ironic in that Michael had such a deep need for intimacy - not just sexual, but intimacy in general, yet for me, there was no sense that he forged an intimate bond with Anne. And as a reader, I did not feel a sense of closeness with either character.
The second and most disturbing aspect of The Lover was the connection of sex with violence and death. Michael's thoughts during sex were more often on death and violence rather than healing and love. Sex in our popular culture is too often for my tastes, connected with violence, death, or commercialism. And the one genre of popular literature where it is linked with love, devotion and committment - the romance novel - is the one genre of popular literature most sneered at. While I admired The Lover for its style and the risks Robin Schone is willing to take, I did not like it. If I had to grade it, I would give it a C+.