Saturday, March 05, 2011

"Until You," by Judith McNaught

The Chick: Sheridan Bromleigh, a.k.a. "Charise Lancaster." Formerly a lady's companion, when she receives a traumatic head injury on the same day her rebellious charge elopes, she's mistaken for the wealthy heiress.
The Rub: What will happen when her newfound friends - and romantic interest, Stephen - discover she's actually an impoverished Irish-American commoner?
Dream Casting: Felicia Day.

The Dude: Stephen Westmoreland, Earl of Langford. When heiress Charise Lancaster gets a whack on the head right before he has the chance to tell her he accidentally killed her fiance (don't ask), he feels it's his double-duty to take care of her and make sure she finds a good match.
The Rub: He quickly finds himself falling for her, but feels like a jackass for hitting on the woman of the guy he mowed down in his carriage.
Dream Casting: Ioan Gruffudd.

The Plot: (to the tune of "Bohemian Rhapsody")

Stephen: Mamaaaaa, I just killed a man!
Ran him down right in the street,
His wife-to-be he'll never meet!
My guilt trip's only just begun - and now I have to find his fiancee!

Mamaaaaa -- *~oooOOOoooooo~*
I'm so torn up inside,
I have to tell this girl the truth tomorrow,
I'm so sad, I'm so bad,
I hope she doesn't hit me.

Sherry: I'm screwed, my time has come.
The girl I'm guarding ran away, and I have to tell her fiance.
How can I face this imposing peer?
Let's dive into my backstory instead!

Daddyyyyyyy *~OOOooooOOOO~* *(What a long infooooo-dump!)
I love to horseback ride,
I'm sure this part will be relevant later on!

*guitar solo*

Stephen: I see an incoming crate about to hit you - look out!
Please look out! Don't let it give you amnesia!
Oh too late it hit her!
I have to babysit her! SHIT!

Sherry: *wakes up* I HAVE NO FACE!

Stephen: What the hell?


Stephen: What the hell?


Stephen: This girl is nuuuUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTS.

Sherry: I'm just a poor girl, with no memory.

Stephen's Doctor and All of His Relatives: She's just a poor girl - get with her romantically!

Stephen: GUYS, I have KNOWN her for less than a DAY.

Stephen's Doctor: If you don't, she might crack, will you bang her now?

Stephen: You're CRAZY. NO! I killed her fiance!

Stephen's Friends: Bang the girl!

Sherry: You're CRAZY! I have no memory!

Stephen's Sis in Law: But he's nice!

Stephen: You're CRAZY! She's too pure and sweet for me!

Stephen's Doctor: Bang the girl!

Stephen: You're weird and creep me out!

Stephen's Bro: Bang the girl!

Charise: Bitch, you stole my name! YOU'RE A HO-OOOO-OOOOO-OOOO!

Sherry: NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! I'm a phony! An impostor! Steve will think that I'm a whore! I'll run away - what could possibly go wrong with that? With THAT? WITH THAAAAAAAAAAT?


Stephen: So you think you can love me when your name is a lie?
You're such a cheap tramp and I hope that you die!
Oh, Sherry - you're such a skanky ho, Sherry!
I should have known! I should have known all women are whores!


Sherry: I know what will help things - my virginity.

Stephen: That doesn't really matter to me.

Sherry: Let's pretend it did, theeeeeeen.

Stephen: ....

Sherry: ...

Stephen: ... Fine, dammit. Whore.

Sherry: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Case of Convenient Amnesia

1 Case of Vehicular Manslaughter

1 Inadvertent Identity Theft

1 Flirty French Rival

1 Inconvenient Elopement

Several Interfering Relatives

1 Highly Invasive and Unethical Doctor

Several Slutty Womenz

The Word: So - you want to be a Judith McNaught heroine?

Do you think you have what it takes?

While the rewards are pretty stellar, getting the hand of a McNaught man is no cakewalk, ladies. No sir. Let's allow her novel Until You to illustrate the rigours you'll have to endure if you wish to win the hand of one of her Ginormously-Endowed-In-Every-Meaning-of-the-Word Heroes.

Yes, this is going to be a highly sarcastic and bitchtastic review. I thought - and hoped - that the misogynist douchebaggery of Something Wonderful might have been a fluke, but now it seems more likely that the delightful Almost Heaven was the real departure from an author's style that, erm, appears to glorify certain types of feminine and masculine behaviour that I find, how shall I say it? Crazy wrong.

But back on track, ladies, it's time to ditch your pride and break out the L'Oreal Flaming Auburn hair dye. Firstly:

1. You Must Have a Long and Detailed Backstory That Clearly Establishes You Have Unusual Talents, Hate Sex and are Not a Racist.
In Until You, before the real story even starts, we are treated to an incredibly long, elaborate and detailed description of the heroine, Sheridan Bromleigh's, backstory. Her Irish daddy took her travelling all over the country, giving her a broad, hands-on education on Horsies, Native American Relations, Why Hookers are Eeeeevil Wimin, and Tolerance of Misogyny.

Is all of this relevant to the story? Not nearly. But since this is also an Amnesia Plotline where Sherry spends most of the story in a brain-damaged haze, we need to have it spelled out to us early on that Sheridan is not a Secret Ax Murderer and Baby Eater. So we have that.

Anyway, after endless pages chronicling Sherry's Wild Hoyden Phase, we get to the actual plot. Sent over from the United States with her spoiled and wayward charge Charise Lancaster, Sherry was supposed to chaperon the girl's first meeting with her aristocratic fiance. However, as soon as the ship reaches port, Charise flees with a strapping soldier, leaving Sherry to break the embarrassing news to her intended.

Enter Stephen Westmoreland - while Stephen's out driving his fancy new team of horses, a drunk runs out into the street in front of him and is squished like a genteelly-impoverished, ne'er-do-well grape. Stephen is crushed (albeit not quite as crushed as the other guy) to discover the deceased aristocrat was engaged to be married, so he takes it upon himself to meet the girl and deliver the bad news himself.

However, he manages to fuck that up as well when the woman he meets at the docks takes a blow to the head and wakes up with no memory. Not entirely unreasonably, he assumes the woman is Charise. Entirely unreasonably (and pretty unethically), his Skeevy and Invasive Family Doctor insists Stephen pose as her actual fiance to keep the fragile egg of her woman-brain from scrambling into a crazy omelet. Of course, the Skeevy and Invasive Family Doctor is doing this because he immediately believes the barely-conscious, neurologically-damaged, identity-less woman he's known less than a day is The One For Stephen.

Dudes, I ship Kurtosfky in Glee, and even I think that's crazy.

2. You can't have ambition.
Oh no, ladies - upward mobility for the delicate sex is a vulgar no-no in McNaught land. Our hero, Stephen, while not an outright assbag like Something Wonderful's "hero" Jordan, is still a cynic distrustful of women ever since that one summer when he got a truckload of property and titles all at once and suddenly all the women in England wanted to bang him. The horror!

I love (and by love I mean hate) how this novel treats the idea of marrying for wealth, land and position like a particularly filthy and notorious kink. Indeed - the Skeevy and Unethical Family Doctor even remarks that he "didn't approve one bit of these modern marriages of convenience".

First of all - modern? AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Secondly, really? As if marrying up were the equivalent of getting Justin Bieber's name tramp-stamped on your lower back? These damn kids and their marriages of convenience - in my day, we married for love, and we LIKED IT!

Sherry, however - she's too busy trying to remember what her face looks like (a scene that is supposed to be dramatic but is unintentionally hilarious) and rediscovering that she has red hair (a scene that is, admittedly, very intentionally hilarious) to work any gold-digger wiles on Stephen, which convinces him of her Innate Goodness and Purity.

Thank goodness Stephen is surrounded by Good Role Models like his sister in law (previous McNaught heroine, Whitney) who totally didn't marry for wealth and prestige - she married her wealthy, prestigious Duke totally by accident.

3. Abandon all manners and social graces.
Another reason the Skeevy and Unethical Family Doctor is so desperate to throw poor Sherry into Stephen's lap is to "protect" Stephen from marrying Miranda Fitzwaring - a well-bred society woman who is supposedly his opposite number in the Ton set. Quoth the Doctor:
She was lovely, gracious, and serene - as she'd been taught to be - but because of that upbringing, she had neither the desire nor the ability to evoke deep emotions in any husband

Yes, it's not enough that a polite, well-bred, responsible upbringing makes Miranda unattractive to Stephen - no, in McNaughtland, good breeding freezes your ovaries into tasteful, round ice cubes and makes you completely unable to have passion with anyone. Excuse me, but I have an entire family tree of well-bred, upper-middle-class aunties, grandmothers, great-aunts and cousins who would be perfectly willing to extend an embossed, gilt-edged invitation to that idea to Go Fuck Itself.

But of course, Sherry knows virtually nothing about the English peerage or rules of gentility and proceeds to embarrass the servants by refusing to follow the order of precedence. Which - once again - swiftly proves to cynical, hard-hearted Stephen that she is All That is Good and Womanly-Soft.

4. You are not allowed to find anything even remotely attractive or desirable about yourself - that's your man's job.
One of the more hilarious traumatic aspects of Sherry's amnesia is that she forgets what she looks like and when she wakes up and has to rediscover it, she's somewhat less than pleased to discover she has red hair and grey eyes. Since only WHORISH WIMIN appreciate their own looks and maintain high self esteem, Sherry's horror at her disgustingly "brazen" hair just provides further proof to Stephen that Sherry is the Epitome of Feminine Perfection.

Beginning to notice a pattern? While the novel starts off silly but harmless, it swiftly moves into wallbanging territory as the plot stops being about An Actual Story Between Two Flawed People and more about Just How God Created the Perfectest Woman for Widdle Stephen.

A process that apparently involves taking the average woman and removing several vital parts - Ambition, Sophistication, Knowledge, Social Poise, and Self-Esteem. Sherry never comes across as a fully-formed, adult character, and that's not just because of the bump on her noggin. Stephen and all the other characters admire her more for what she isn't (a money-grubbing, superficial, overeducated, snobby whore like the rest of us ladies) then for what she is - childish, cutesy, rude, and embarrassingly ignorant. Reading Something Wonderful and Until You back-to-back, you get the message that brain injuries are the cure for all womanly faults.

Hey, but it's not all bad! If you manage to tightly suppress and destroy your Whorish urges to Enjoy Wealth, Respect Social Boundaries, Cultivate Knowledge, and Say No to Your Man, you win the ultimate prize:
1. A ruggedly chiseled man-baby whose lightning-quick mood swings and possessive, intolerant, and suspicious tempers are now yours for life!
He constantly questions your actions and motivations and continually suspects you may be cheating/lying/whoring with any number of dudes - because of that one woman in his past who fucked with him. Because you are a woman, it's of course your fault he feels that way, so it's up to you to give up your virginity in order to calm his righteous manly anger the way Sherry does!
2. Piles and piles of wealth
- too bad actually enjoying wealth and buying things are for whores!

3. An elevated rank in the peerage with all of its accompanying responsibilities - bet you're regretting your charming ignorance of complex social rituals now, eh?
Yeah, Stephen, Sherry's utter ignorance of social custom and the duties of being a countess is adorable now, but try to hold a dinner party. Or serve in Parliament. Or take care of your tenants. Or take her out in any public setting where she'll have to interact with servants in a professional manner.

I have two more McNaught novels on my TBR. What the hell am I going to do?


  1. Which two do you have in your TBR pile. If you have Whitney, My Love or A Kingdom of Dreams - BURN THEM.

    The funny thing about Stephen is he was a completely different character in Whitney, My Love. He believed in love, the sanctity of marriage and was, all-in-all, a pretty upbeat and stand-up kind of guy. As a reader of that novel, his complete turn around in this one made no sense. Especially since we got to witness the "incident" with that one woman first hand. Trust me, it wasn't enough to turn him into this.

    One of the things I hate about McNaught is how the drama is never enough. They go through ALL THIS, get to the point where they're starting to be happy and you think "Whew, that was a rough ride but ok, we're moving on" and then BAM, guess what? MOAR DRAMAZ.

    Insult meet Injury.

  2. Anonymous12:32 AM

    I had to send this to my husband, the Queen fan. He was highly amused. -- willaful

  3. Anonymous1:52 AM

    Loved the Bohemian Plotsody.

    But yeah, throw out the rest of the JMs. Unless you have a prescription of lithium to deal with all that bipolar writing.


  4. Giedre1:56 AM

    I can't stop laughing now. The only good thing about reading "Until You" was your review. :D It's a good thing that it was a library book. Before returning it I pencilled in a friendly warning for fellow romance lovers on the inside of the book cover. It was: "Reading causes head-wall reaction". Hopefully, the librarian didn't notice.

  5. Estelle3:06 AM

    I laughed so much when reading your review that I felt the need to re-read the one you did of Something Wonderful and laugh some more.

    Until You and Something Wonderful are the books I hate the most by Judith McNaught. My two favorites are Almost Heaven and Once and Always.

    Whitney, My Love is kind of in a category of its own. It's a trainwreck and the "hero" can give Jordan from SW lessons in how to be the biggest a$$hole around but it's a mesmerizing trainwreck. You can't stop reading and just gobble it down. For full effect the original version has to be read and not the more recent more PC revised version (that one takes the "fun" out of it).

  6. Yes, as Holly recommended: Whitney My Love is worthy of burning and then gathering up the ashes and burning them again. Almost Heaven was more enjoyable and I actually love 2 of her contemporaries I've read "Paradise" and most especially "Perfect". But when Judith McNaught writes a big misunderstanding it is a BIG FREAKING S#@TSTORM MISUNDERSTANDING the likes of which make any moderately sane reader fall off their freaking couch. Sounds like I should be grateful not to have read this one although after finishing Whitney My Love I don't think I EVER would have sought out a sequel unless under extreme duress. Hysterical review. Thanks! And BTW I am THRILLED you are back and hope you're settled in to your new digs.

  7. Anonymous12:28 PM

    I missed your reviews. I didn't like "Until You" at all when I read it so I can agree with you 100%. It's like the character had a personality transplant or something because he was one of the few good things about "Whitney, my love."

    Now, as to your TBR pile...if one of the books is called "Paradise," please don't burn it. :)

  8. Anonymous1:42 PM

    It's very common amongst authors who always write the same sort of books, that their characters have personality transplants when they become the stars. It becomes positively funny in Diana Palmer -- you see a guy telling the hero off for being such an ass, and you know he will be exactly the same sort of jerk as soon as it's his turn. (When he gets old enough to be 10+ years older than the heroine.) -- willaful

  9. I actually remember liking (although not loving) this one and Something Wonderful is my favourite McNaught. Horses for courses I guess.

    The Bohemian Rhapsody was inspired! I always enjoy your reviews AnimeJune. Thx! :)

  10. Vorkosigrrl2:24 PM

    Thank God! You're back! I've been going through withdrawal. Hope the move went well. Don't stay away so long next time.

    Love ya!

  11. Hilarious! Great job on the review.

    After "Whitney, My Love" and "Once and Always", I didn't think I wanted to try another historical McNaught. Now I definitely know I don't, LOL. I'll argue that her contemporary books are worth the read, though. There is a conservative streak about them, but they're usually good and much more convincing stories.

    As for the "one woman fucked his trust in all women", I'm reading a book in which it is reversed, and it's just as silly. "I've been in love with a beautiful man who turned out to be a criminal, so now I HATE all beautiful men!" Yeah, right. Get over yourself.

  12. Anonymous8:09 AM

    Read Almost Heaven, it's great.

  13. Oh wow, I've just discovered your blog and laughed and laughed at your Bophemian Rhapsody - fantastic! I shall be coming back... Though I don't read romantic fiction normally, I love reading your reviews of it.

  14. Maxius Kley1:02 AM

    hahahaha your review was HILARIOUS! i feel the same way about judith mcnaught books, just when everythings going all happy she HAS to, i mean she HAS to DELIBRATELY spoil it all.

    and holly's right. if its whitney,my love or Kingdom of dreams BURN them. thATS what i wanted to do when i read kingdom of dreams.