Saturday, 22 September 2012

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught

Whitney, My Love (1985) (I read the 1999 reissue)
Judith McNaught
Grade: C
Genre: historical romance
Sex scenes: that 80s type; controversial rape/almost-rape scene, depending on which version you read
Source: own, second-hand

The wilful and defiant Whitney Stone has driven her father so completely mad with her unashamed and brazen pursuit of the reluctant Paul Sevarin that he has decided to send her away to Paris with her aunt and uncle. Whitney is distraught; she is convinced that Paul is her one-and-only true love and to be separated from him like this (even though Paul has only ever given the impression that Whitney is a spoilt, childish little girl) ruins all her plans for the future she has planned for them. When it becomes clear that Whitney has no choice in the matter, she becomes determined to come back from Paris such a changed woman so that Paul will be falling at her feet begging her to marry him …

Whitney isn’t far off the mark. She takes Paris by storm and wins the affections of the handsome and well-born Nicholas DuVille, but she has no intention of accepting his offer of marriage. Whitney’s return is marked by Paul indeed falling at her feet in complete and utter admiration as well as the whole town talking about her transformation. Whitney can’t wait to wed Paul but it turns out that she’s already engaged to someone else …

Martin Stone is in a lot of debt. Enough debt that in desperation, he sold his daughter to Clayton Westmoreland, the Duke of Claymore and one of the richest, most powerful men in the country. This money has paid for the refurbishment of the house and dozens of servants that they would not otherwise be able to afford, just to greet Whitney on her return. As part of the bargain, Clayton must be allowed to court Whitney before his identity and money come into the equation. Unsurprisingly, all does not go to plan. Whitney is furious when she finds out (as you might expect) and immediately plans to elope with Paul the first opportunity they get. What she’s not expecting is Clayton’s dogged determination to get what he wants and just how attracted she is to this overpowering, arrogant man that she’s meant to hate …

I’m not going to say that I regret buying this book because it’s in fab condition for a second-hand eBay find, but I will say that I really really really disliked it. I get that it is probably regarded in some circles as a ‘classic’ in the romance genre and for that reason, I’m glad I’ve read it if only to tick another book from my AAR Top 100 Romances TBR, but there just aren’t words for how angry the book makes me. I had heard a lot about it (in the romance genre, it’s hard not to hear stuff about Whitney, but it was a book that I had expected to like, mostly because I do well with Judith McNaught in general. I was wrong. Elizabeth Vail does a damn good job of expressing everything that’s wrong with the book in a post on Heroes and Heartbreakers, so I’ll keep my post brief by saying that I agree with everything that she’s argued.

Ms McNaught’s historicals all follow a very precise and predictable formula; sometimes I find this endearing with authors that I like and she reminds me of Julie Garwood in this way. In short, very rich hero meets (impoverished) heroine with whom he has a large age gap; the heroine is without doubt a virgin. In some (Whitney, My Love and Until You most notably) this becomes something of a Big Misunderstanding later on in the novel. Hero is violently attracted to heroine and with the latter having no previous romantic experience, she is uncomfortable with the strength of the emotions that the hero invokes in her. He has had a bad experience with females in the past and so stereotypes all women like his ex; the heroine is the first person since who truly makes him believe that not all women are the same. They either get married or plan to do so and a Big Misunderstanding arises whereby the hero becomes convinced that the woman he thought he loved is actually a conniving, lying, social-climbing slut who has betrayed all the faith that he has ever placed in her – just like his ex. Heroine usually doesn’t know what she has done wrong but her love for the hero is such that she works hard to regain his trust in her. Hero, like the AlphHole he is, doesn’t realise the truth until the end of the book and in the meantime, is just unbelievably mean and nasty to this woman that he at the last minute professes his undying love for. Men.

Whitney’s constant attempts to evade Clayton and get her own, stubborn way are ridiculous. It seems that every chapter, she has a new plan to lull Clayton into a false sense of security before escaping his clutches and eloping with Paul. Not only was it rashly impulsive, ill-thought through and just plain stupid, it was just highlighted Whitney’s youth and naivety. I command her for wanting to get out of this unjustly made match, but the ways she went about it and tried to do it were just silly.

Clayton Westmoreland pisses me off like no hero has ever done before. Ms McNaught is well-known for her ultra-alpha, misogynistic, overbearing and almost-violent heroes, but Clayton is the biggest AlphHole I have ever come across. I might actually hate him more than I hated Søren in The Siren, which is extreme coming from me. I exaggerate a lot and very often, but this is no exaggeration. Ms McNaught’s heroes are all very similar, but I don’t think that any are quite so domineering, so sure of his own worth and so demandingly arrogant about what he wants as Clayton is. Yes, there’s parts of the book where he concedes to Whitney’s requests and he actually comes across as semi-pleasant, but he will always counter that with another uber-arrogant and uber-demanding scene where he completely eradicates all the redemption points that he had just won from me. 

Whitney, My Love takes the prize for being the longest romance novel I have ever read. It’s certainly not my longest novel ever, but with my copy standing at a whopping 708 pages (yes, you read that right), it was like it was never ending. It could have done without a lot of it; Whitney’s various plots and exploits were too protracted and were so silly anyway that it was a waste of space. It seemed forever like Ms McNaught had to make Whitney do one last crazy stunt before she could call it a day … only this would be followed by another and another and – you get the idea. I was bored often and couldn’t wait to finish – not a great sign.

I admit that Ms McNaught does do tension/angst/conflict scenes very well. They may be a little over-the-top and so angsty that it makes you cringe, but they do definitely sweep you up in the drama and get you rooting for a HEA outcome. There’s one scene that Valerie Bowman writes about in this article where Whitney has come to Clayton’s mansion one last time to explain her actions to him and how he misinterpreted them. Clayton didn’t get her message that she was coming, but his brother, Stephen, knows of his love for Whitney. Stephen persuades her to stay and supports her the whole night when Clayton flaunts his new fiancée in her face and tries to mock her into leaving. Since Ms Bowman does such a great job in her article, I’m not going to repeat it, but I did like this scene. Only to have the temporary-HEA that resulted from it later destroyed. Sigh.

The almost-rape scene offended me. I’d like to read the original just for comparison but even the edited 1999 version would offend many readers of varying sensibilities. It’s written carefully so that Clayton realises last minute the severity of what he is doing and stops himself, but Whitney then ‘submits’ to him and it’s just shocking. The problem I have with it is that you can clearly see glimpses of what it was and it isn’t pretty. Elizabeth Vail suggests in her article that the almost-rape is perhaps worse than the real thing and she’s possibly right. Add the fact that Whitney then chooses to give her virginity to Clayton as an ‘apology’ for her actions makes it just a WTF-ery mess. There’s nothing that Clayton can do, in my mind, to make up for what he did, both in that scene and his general asshole-ery attitude the whole book.

Now the biggie: do I recommend Whitney, My Love? If you think that you’re not going to jibe well with the almost-rape scene, then don’t read it. At times, Whitney is a strong, feisty heroine, but there are other scenes where her attempts to suck up to Clayton for her bad behaviour are hugely disappointing and detrimental to the feminist cause. This book completely batters all my feminist values and to be honest, I’m not sure that I’ll ever pick it up to read cover-to-cover ever again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ‘classic’ of the genre and there are some that love it, but I’m not one of them. It had its moments and I love Nicky and Anne, but there was just way too much that angered me. I would suggest that you read it so that you can fully understand what I’ve been going on about, but expect to dislike it, then that way you can’t be too disappointed.

Full list of labels:  (1985), AAR Top 100 Romances, AlphHole heroes, angst, book review, controversial book, feisty heroines, feminism, formulaic books, Grade C, Heroes and Heartbreakers, historical romance, Judith McNaught, long books, rape

Image courtesy of Book Depository

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