Short Form Book Reviews
A lot of the other reviews I've done have been padded with historical context and analysis, as well as ranting about how much I personally loved the book, but sometimes (especially with more recent books) all of that isn't really applicable. I figured that I might as well still write briefly about them, though, if only for my own personal reference in the future.
Table of Contents
Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)
It's a decent enough short story, overall. It hinges entirely around the "plot twist," but literally everyone, even if they've never read the book, knows that she's a vampire. In popular culture, people basically just talk about it like, "Oh, is that the one with the lesbian vampire?" That kinda makes all of the talk about how random village women disappearing and Carmilla's "sickness" much less suspenseful, y'know?
That said, while the writing is quite stuffy and overly formal, it's more explicitly romantic than I thought it would be. Still, Laura seems confused and uncomfortable by Carmilla's affections and, as you would expect from the time period, I guess, doesn't seem to realize that homosexuality is a thing, instead thinking that Carmilla is actually a long lost relative or a boy disguised as a girl trying to court her or something. The story's interesting to look back at as the origin of the whole vampire romance trope, etc, at least.
The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (2019)
I don't necessarily think this was a bad book or anything. The writing is very pretty and descriptive with phrases like, "her touch is like the warm golden silky rays of an embroidered sunset." The way that it talks about how women were discriminated against in early 19th century England was also very interesting, and the ways women would work together to get around that – like opening their own literary societies and publishing houses, employing each other, etc. I also appreciated the discussions about how women's art (like embroidery) was considered inherently lesser to men's art, and how women were structurally excluded from places of higher learning and their work misattributed to men. I think it would be a really good choice of reading for a feminist book club, honestly!
But, first and foremost, I bought this as a lesbian romance novel, and I just thought the romantic aspects were dull. Repeatedly as I was reading it, I found myself thinking, "This is too cute and soft and happy…" And that's kind of an issue that permeates through the rest of the book. Everything that you want to happen, happens – the women emerge, victorious and in love, having successfully defeated the evils of patriarchal oppression! Like, the ending, where it's revealed:
[click here for spoilers!]that Oléron, the highly respected French astronomer and mathematician whose work Lucy has been translating, is actually a woman, and that makes the men realize they've been wrong to exclude women from the Polite Science Society this whole time.
It feels like it was designed to particularly appeal to modern day readers rather than ring true for the actual setting. That's kind of just nit picking, but I do think that it makes the book undermine its own message and that's why I rated it kinda low.