To recap? this book is about our primary narrator--Max--and his journey from playboy to patriarch. He's going to assume the mantle of head of the family--a role thrust upon him by his older-brother's death. He's also going to quit boning down with his dead brother's widow, which will symbolize his newfound respect for the family unit.
He's also going to marry his housekeeper. You see, it's incorrect for a patriarch to be paying a lady to do domestic labor. Instead, he's going to marry her, because the patriarch is a sort of pre-capitalist institution that ought not be sullied by things like wages and market forces.
Oh and of course his housekeeper is from Eastern Europe. This is about rehabilitating British colonialism. But see, she's from a white person so it's good, right guys? It's fine and good now, right?
On the one hand, I'm saying all this because it seems silly to do all this half-assed marxism, but also I believe it's completely correct.
At first, I thought that the death of Max's brother was merely about proving to the reader that this was a different book from 50 Shades. I still think that that's a significant element, of course. But I also now think it's an important plot detail. It's the true inciting event in our story, as the end of the book is just going to be TADA! max is now comfortable in his duty as an old-timey aristocrat, and this all would've been his brother's job had he not died.
I'm honestly a little disappointed to have cracked this one so early. I hope we get some weird complications along the way. After all, EL does introduce a "villain" of sorts in the second book of her 50 Shades trilogy. So maybe we'll get some other curveballs thrown at us, and that could be fun. But I'm pretty confident in my assumptions about the general plot.
And, our heroes are only finally meeting in chapter four. And not cute!
--So how did you two meet?
--Well get this! She was my housekeeper!
--(Takes imaginary call on phone. Leaves party.)
This book does a thing I find weird which is that it alternates between Max's POV--first person--and Alessia's point of view--third person. It makes Max, in effect, the "true" narrator as it creates quite a distance between us and Alessia. While technically I supposed we'd call the POV in her sections "close third" it's nowhere near as close as how we perceive Max. I think it makes her seem a little dull and slow in comparison.
I also just find it an odd way of telling a story. To me, it makes the hand of the author more obvious. There's no reason that EL couldn't narrate from inside Alessia's head. But she doesn't. Every time we switch to Alessia, it just feels like the artificiality of it all is announced anew.
Alessia reacts to running into Max very much like a deer in the headlights, and that doesn't make her seem any more swift.
He is so attractive!
And he’s half naked! But why is he so mad? Did she wake him?
No! He will send her away from the piano.
Panicked, she drops her gaze to the floor as she flounders for something to say and clutches the handle of the broom to keep her upright.
Right? We're to believe that Alessia has absolutely been through some shit, and yet in this moment, her concern is over the piano?
And do you feel how the POV seems to move in and out? "He will send her away from the piano" is like an internal quotation. And then we're pulled out again, almost like third-person dramatic. As in, third person with no interior access. There's something childlike about the few internal thoughts that we do get. It's a real wall between us and Alessia, and I fear that it's going to make their romance seem real weird. It's inappropriate for Max to pursue a relationship with someone who works for him, but Alessia's portrayal makes her seem almost mentally unfit on top of that.
Old people writing alert:
Have I seen her before? An image from a forgotten dream develops like a Polaroid in my memory, an angel in blue hovering at my bedside.
Cmon. Max must've been born circa 1990. This is all our dude knows about Polaroid:
I'm ten years older than Max and Polaroids are a pretty dim memory. I think there's a tendency among lazy writers to borrow film language. People in movies just love to look at photos and in mirrors and do all sorts of thoughts and so on. But this kind of metaphor has long outlasted the media. Here's my update: "An image from a forgotten dream resolves like a high-res jpeg in my memory." Much better! An image we can all relate to!
Oh also EL thinks that the absolute height of men's fashion is a torn pair of jeans. Considering her age, this makes perfect sense, but for a rich guy like Max, I think it's just silly. He's absolutely not wearing through jeans on his own! Oh no. If they've got holes, the holes were made for him, by machines.
Max spends like three pages growing frustrated about Alessia not talking to him. The longer it goes and the more frustrated he gets the less cute our meeting is between our romantic leads. Anyway he thinks she's super hot. She thinks he's super hot. And once they finally part Alessia vows to be the best-possible housekeeper so he will let her keep playing the piano. So romantic!
Anyway Max goes and works out like crazy because he's such a manly-man and everything. And he tells himself that he's only horny for his housekeeper because of the stress of his brother's death. Feels very much like Ebenezer Scrooge saying, "There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" As in, it's not a good explanation!
Short scene of Alessia finishing up at Max's house and then playing piano for a sec. We've yet to really learn anything about her other than how she's from Albania, plays piano, and arrived in London under traumatic circumstances. Oh and Max thinks she's hot.
Then Max is meeting his younger sister and mother for lunch. His mother is bad, or something, or at least he doesn't like her. This fits my grand theory about this novel. You see. Max's mom is the matriarch, and that's bad. See, there should be a patriarch. That's good. The fact that she's bad is going to make it go down a lil smoother when Max inevitably becomes the lone leader of his earldom or whatever.
Max is like Christian in that all women, wherever he goes, want to fuck him. I wish this were a clever unreliable narrator bit but I just don't think EL is quite that clever. No, I think it's earnest. We're really supposed to believe that the waitress at this place wants to flirt, and not just that this is a restaurant with friendly, attentive service. No, couldn't be that! No chance.
Anyway Max and his sister Maryann chat and so on and catch up and then their mother arrives. Looking at pages 97 and 98 of my digital copy here, EL is really hitting us hard with the aristocrat act! In just these two pages we get Dowager Countess of Trevethick, Countess of Trevethick once more, and then Eleventh Earl of Trevethick. Also Max notes her "Chanel suit and pearls" and I gotta wonder--is this the kind of thing that Max knows about? Also, is his mom Marge?
[Editor's note: find that Simpsons video and put it here. And then delete this note.]
Max's mom, Rowena, orders "a glass of the Chablis" and I just don't believe that that's an option. I think you can only order that by the gallon jug. Am I wrong? I don't think I'm wrong.
Max says she has a Mid-Atlantic accent which is bonkers but I guess what he means is that she's a British lady who mostly lives in New York. And that her taste in wine is completely bonkers. Chablis! I'm sorry--I'm just not going to get over this! Chablis! EL has had characters do passable wine orders before. Nothing impressive or anything. Just, you know, a kind of wine that might be on a menu.
Oh hey I did a quick wiki and I learned that Chablis is a wine region just south of Champagne where they only grow Chardonnay. Maybe things are different in English restaurants, and Rowena is ordering a proper wine, and not a jug wine from California in 1985. Wine experts? Please sound off in the comments! I'm still going to think of Rowena as "jug wine grandma" tho.
But Chablis aside, Max just hates his mom and it's pretty gross! She divorced his dad and now lives mostly in New York and has younger boyfriends and spends a lot of time making herself look nice and Max hates her. Ladies: absolutely get away from any man who is this shitty to his mom. EL has Max *tell* us all about how bad his mom is but doesn't *show* her being bad and if only there were some pithy slogan that could help her out!
This luncheon is pretty much without incident. Max mentions that his brother's widow might be pregnant. They address the fact that Kit (dead bro) didn't leave Caroline (dead bro wife) anything in his will. But nothing really comes of any of it. It just seems like an excuse for Max to be shitty to his mom and like, sure, his mom doesn't seem great or anything but like, cmon. You feel shitty about your brother dying, right Max. Probably that guy's mother is feeling pretty rough right now too so like, maybe cut the tiniest lil bit of slack? No? Ok no.
Oh and they mention a memorial service, because Kit had a funeral but hasn't yet had a memorial service. Is this a rich people thing? An aristocrat thing? Seems a little mean to make everyone get all sad and everything twice. Is this a thing that I just don't know about? When I die, please just gather somewhere and drink--not chablis, but whatever else--oh and then go on a bike ride around whatever city you like and whenever you see a car in the bike lane go ahead and key it, just for me. You can call the drinking part the funeral and the vigilante bike lane enforcement you can call the memorial service. Seriously tho--I'm second-guessing myself now! Are funerals and memorial services different?
Anyway Max goes home and Caroline texts him and wants to like, do stuff probably, because that's what all women want with him. And he says no and instead goes to his piano and he's so inspired by being horny for Alessia that he finishes a piano song he'd been working on.
Here's a description of our guy's piano playing: "The notes ring out through the room. Evocative. Melancholic. Stirring me. Inspiring me."
Ha! I can totally hear it! I love that EL doesn't even try to give us any type of sense of what the music is like. I dunno if this is a pop song, or what. Writing about music is hard, sure, so one solution is definitely to not even try!
Anyway, Max is a music genius because he's so inspired by Alessia.
Folks, he's going to bed alone! That's monogamy kicking in already! He'll be patriarch in no time! Silly. This book is silly. Also it's kind of like that episode of Seinfeld where George stops having sex and becomes a genius for a little while.When I look at my watch, it’s after midnight. Stretching my arms above my head, I examine the manuscript in front of me. It’s complete. I’ve written a whole piece, and I am overwhelmed with a sense of achievement. How long have I been trying to do this? And all it took was meeting my new daily. I shake my head, and for once I go to bed early and alone.
Geez. So uh, yeah, they did sorta kinda meet in this chapter, but this still is really not going anywhere at all. And folks? There is a lot of book left in this book, let me tell ya! We're like 1/6 of the way through or something obscene like that. Hold on! It's going to be boring.