checkmate, by dorothy dunnett

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been sitting on my thoughts about this book for a while. It keeps bugging me. Like every time I think of this series I’m like — “ASGLKAJGLKAJGASGAJGLK BEST SERIES EVER!!!!!!!!!” but then I think of the ending and my face takes on this involuntary grimace and I feel horribly let down by it, as if by a extraordinarily precocious child prodigy who goes to college swearing to solve cancer and comes back a obese couch potato with his finger permanently inserted in a chip bag. Specifically, Marthe. Can I get a WTF, ladies? When I read it, I couldn’t put a finger on what exactly about Marthe’s ending – besides the obvious – made my mouth shrivel like a prune, but now I think I’ve got it. It’s that we’re made to feel relief at her death. After two books of investing our sympathy in this wonderful, horrible, faceted, mad, motivated, spit-in-your-face defiant woman, Dunnett has her decide to expose the family secrets. There’s a dramatic confrontation and a stabbing of the adorable Monseiur Hislop thrown in for good measure. Then she goes and rides off while vicious thoughts of vengeance condense in a miasma about her head and the reader is like “noooooo. don’t let this happen. STOP HER!” And she is stopped. In the most literal way possible. And then the reader puts down the book, blows out a breath that ruffles the bangs on her forehead, picks the book back up, and blithely forgets ALL ABOUT MARTHE when she returns to reading roughly twenty pages of Philippa and Lymond sexing in their blessed matrimonial bed.

As another review sniped, seeing a friend die horribly and graphically in front of you is a surefire way to make any rape victim horny again, I can tell you that.

Other than that I think I would’ve found this book extremely affecting if I hadn’t been already spoiled for about 80% of its developments. Sabina called the First Baron Culter/Sybilla connection. I knew Marthe was going to die because clodhead that I was, I tried to read fic before finishing the series. I still felt nauseous at Philippa’s sacrifice and my chest got all blocked up and my breath came faster. What else? I think another criticism that I’ve read elsewhere is spot-on. This last book is pretty much structured like a romance novel. Depending on your tolerance of Lymond/Philippa, this is either a great thing or a thing to make your gorge rise. Books 3 and 4 (still my favorites) were much more adventure-oriented, in that Lymond had an external enemy whom he pursued across several continents and eventually put to the death. But once the conflict guiding the narrative turned inward (books 5 and 6) — Lymond struggles with his pain and wants to kill himself, among other tiresome retreads — things get so much more soppy and ungainly.

Things that I liked: Lovely descriptions. And Adam and Danny. On the level of the writing, I thought Lymond’s discovery of Philippa post-Bailey was very well done. Once again, Dunnett excels at letting the reader realize on her own the horror of the unstated. Powerful technique.

And poor Jerott:

“As he watched, she bent her head and crossing her hands, slid them along her forearms to still them. Oh God, thought Jerott. Don’t let it happen. She doesn’t deserve the torment. The lifetime of waiting, in return for a handful of moments of ecstasy. And standing behind him, always, the ghosts of his other, experienced women. The thoughts he did not share. The knowledge that one had his total friendship but never the key to the innermost door. . . . And there was an innermost door, which Marthe did not have, and had never had, although his hopes of that, and that alone, had been his reason for marrying her.

Adam was looking at him. Stupid with too much wine and too much emotion Jerott turned his head, and so caught, without warning, the expression on Austin Grey’s face.”

Can’t remember anything else, it’s all been blotted out by the wtf ending.


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