Wow, long time since I did one of these!
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
There are very few books that get me so mad that I want to throw them across the room, but this is one of them. The author wrote a perfect historical romance, well-written, well-researched, the era brilliantly conveyed and the characters fascinating. She then destroyed it utterly by bookending it with a prologue and last chapter which turned it into something else altogether. I suppose the intention was to elevate the book from the realms of mere romance to historical fiction or even literature, and I daresay for many, possibly most, readers that worked fine. My book group, for instance, for whom this was a monthly pick, liked it well enough and most saw nothing wrong with the ending.
But for me, it ruined the whole story. It took a main character who had, after many years vacillating and being pushed around by her family and history, finally taken charge of her life, and then put her straight back into the box of being passive. And her reasons for that were (to me, anyway) opaque. She had everything she’d ever wanted — her lover, her daughter, her art, the freedom to be whatever she wanted to be — and she threw it all away to stay in her convent. This could have been a compelling ending. She could have accepted a life devoted to God, for instance, or she could have simply decided she was happy there. But no, she was so far from happy that she later kills herself, a great sin in those days (not a spoiler — this is revealed in the prologue).
I’m not an intolerant reader, and I can suspend my disbelief in a thousand different ways before breakfast. I write epic fantasy, after all, so fantastical events are my bread and butter. But people are people, no matter how outlandish the setting. With orcs, elves, wizards, demons, werebeetles, you-name-its — well, fine, actual results may vary. But for human beings, there are certain rules to be followed and motivations have to be credible. You can’t have a character do something just because. No, really, you can’t. There has to be a reason and it has to be believable, and in this book the character’s decisions were neither.
You can read my full, very ranty, review here.
Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.