Musings: I very much wanted to like Wildthorn, primarily because of its young lesbian protagonist. Given the time period of the novel, there were so many questions that could be explored. What would it be like to realize you were attracted to girls when you wouldn't even know the name for that kind of relationship? How would you construct your identity when a core part of yourself would always have to be hidden?
Unfortunately, while Wildthorn does take a somewhat new approach to the historical romance genre, its over-reliance on cliched characters and storytelling has led an uninspiring and dull read. Stock characters? You got them: a nasty brother, a doting but somewhat clueless father who dies, a Nurse Ratched asylum nurse. And, worst of all, a protagonist with no real flaws and no nuance of character. Stock setting? An insane asylum where the patients aren't really insane, the staff are abusive, and the conditions deplorable. Stock themes? Women were oppressed, and it wasn't fair. Heck, I'm a feminist, and I couldn't help but roll my eyes at many of the conversations, which went something like this:
Louisa: I want to be a doctor!
Other character: Oh, how shocking! But you can't be!
Louisa: Why not?!
Other character: Because you're a woman! And women can't be doctors!
Louisa: It's not fair! Women can be doctors!
Other character: [blatantly obvious stereotype against women]
Louisa: [whines and gets angry]There was no subtlety of character or plot. The evil characters were obviously evil (the asylum nurse Weeks was the worst), and the good characters obviously good. The explanation for everything at the end seemed contrived and unrealistically complex.
The romance was welcome, as it was the only unique part of the book, but it came about too suddenly. I never felt invested in it, and it wasn't enough to save the book for me. I realize I'm coming across harsh, and I'll admit that perhaps the book might be more interesting to younger readers completely unfamiliar with the way mental illness was treated or the lack of opportunities open to women in the Victorian era.
***This book qualifies for the GLBT Reading Challenge 2010.
E-galley received by the publisher through Net Galley for my honest review.