The Lady's Tutor

The Lover

 
Awaken, My Love by Robin Schone
(Brava Kensington, $15.00, R) ISBN 1-57566-907-2
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First off, condolences to those of you who will no longer be able to subsidize your rent by re-selling the first edition of Robin Schone’s debut novel, Awaken, My Love. The new “Author’s Edition” is a comparative steal at fifteen bucks, and for those who enjoy exploding traditional notions of sexuality’s role in romantic love, the money is well spent indeed.

Elaine Metcliffe is a thirty-nine year old systems analyst whose concerns are not limited to a zaftig figure and graying hair: she is also dying piecemeal of loneliness and sexual frustration. Her husband does not understand her needs, nor does he wish to. Thus she has formed the habit of physically satisfying herself, as we discover in the book’s now infamous opening scene.

Meanwhile, Lord Charles Mortimer’s bride, Morrigan, is so cold and unresponsive that he might as well be masturbating when he finally deflowers her on their first wedding anniversary. Realizing the futility of his year-long effort to awaken her to physical and emotional love, Charles departs Morrigan’s bed and his estate in a mix of disillusionment, heartbreak, and rage.

Little does he know that when his bride’s body next awakes, it is Elaine who stares blearily out of her eyes-having somehow been transported to a different body in a different century. The initial shock, as well as the thrill of inhabiting the body of a skinny twenty-one year old, quickly pale before the sometimes disgusting realities of Victorian life-not the least of which is Hattie, an abusive Scottish abigail who compels her to pass the days in repentant prayer. Elaine, fearful of detection, bides her time and dreams of a way to return home.

However, time grows difficult to simply “bide” when Morrigan’s husband returns. Encouraged by the subtle changes in his wife, and advised by a doctor that they are due to her sexual awakening, he mounts a campaign of Tantric seduction, determined to elicit from her all the passion and love that she has formerly denied him. Elaine, discovering in him everything that she lacked in her marriage, fights a losing battle to remain loyal to her former life-a battle that grows more complicated when Morrigan returns to terrorize her, and she realizes that not only her heart, but her very life, is at stake…

It is difficult to read Robin Schone’s work without waxing philosophical. Labeled “erotic romance,” her books’ unabashedly graphic depictions of sex are not so much gratuitous erotica as they are a statement of an underlying ethos-one that holds the physical side of love to be a vital bond and even a channel of communication between two adults. This inextricable relationship between the physical and emotional distinguishes her work from other sexually explicit romance authors whose works I purposefully avoid. Elaine and Charles’ loveplay may plummet off the edge of conventional restraint, but their hearts plummet with them, making the experience an affirmation of love as the only human experience where restraint is not only unnecessary, but inappropriate.

Apart from this refreshing view of sexuality-which unfortunately becomes the focus of so many debates regarding the book’s merit-Awaken, My Love provides a refreshingly funny commentary on the time-travel genre. Elaine’s trials regarding chamber pots, makeshift maxi pads, and social sensibilities like unshaven legs underline such astounding oversights in other books that readers may never again be able to accept a sloppily written, unrealistic experience of waking up in another century.

However, realism is a fickle commodity in a book based on the concept of time travel. As with all Schone’s works, the villains are melodramatic caricatures, and Elaine’s ashamed secrecy regarding her host body’s history of victimization through molestation is unintentionally disturbing, even if her hero’s reaction reassures. Some may also miss more traditional progressions of romance into love, though neither of these characters seems suited to any other route.

Despite these minor flaws, Awaken, My Love is an important and satisfying argument for the philosophy of love that Robin Schone has pioneered in the romance industry. It’s also a unique, rapid read, and readers weary of pastel flirtation over fans cannot complain of the genre’s stagnation until they’ve given this book a try.

--Meredith McGuire


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