Black Silk (Wheeler Compass) Hardcover – Large Print, Nov 2002
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Top Customer Reviews
First of all, the characters are for so thick a book (450 pages of reasonably small print in my edition) surprisingly thin. They have silly names as well, which did get in the way of my enjoyment - I couldn't think why a Victorian woman was called Submit - I'd accept it as the name of a 17th century woman of Puritan stock but not a Victorian girl - and Graham would be perfectly acceptable as a surname for a Victorian gentleman, but its popularity as a first name is very much a late 20th century development. Names do matter.
We spend a good deal of time primarily in Graham's mind and then a fair amount of time sharing Submit's experiences and emotions. Both struck me as rather dull and banal and when Submit is actually engaged in writing herself, she seems very much a Mary Sue for the writer.
There is scarcely any action to speak of, and what there is e.g. a 'Summer Hunt' leaps out as inaccurate - the hunting season runs from November to April in the UK - there is no summer hunting. There is also the question of one (American) couple divorcing so that the wife can marry our hero - given the rumpus that the thought of the heir to the throne marrying a divorcee caused in 1936, it is extremely unlikely that a peer of the realm could calmly contemplate marriage to a divorcee some 80 years before. There was a strong 20th century sensibility to most of the events and atmosphere of the book which marred it for me.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Graham and Submit are two wonderfully portrayed characters, real and complex. Too often in romance books one or both of the main characters undergo a miraculous, almost unbelievable, change in order to ensure a happy ending. No such easy solution here and that's what makes the book worth reading.
Graham is charming, wild, irresponsible and often childish but he is never mean and never stupid. He is ruled by his emotions (not for lack of brains, though), enjoys life and refuses to feel guilty about it. Submit is serious, reasonable, has a sharp open mind and the fact that she is not easily shocked, plus, that she has a very strong sense of self makes her a good mate for Graham.
The fact that Graham is a very appealing hero (and he is! faults and all) and that Submit is not boring is a tribute to Ivory's deep understanding of human nature.
The dialogues are delightfully sophisticated, through them we discover the character's inner strengths and weaknesses and follow the growing friendship between two completely different people who move in different circles of London's society.A friendship that will eventually bring Graham and Submit together, supposedly against all odds, without giving up their essential personalities. When Submit finally agrees to take Graham on she knows exactly what she'll get. She is not blinded by his charm and faces the future without illusions. She is clever enough to see through Graham's rakish facade to the intelligence and kindness of the man inside and sensible enough to know better than to try and change him (though she is also honest enough to admit she might be tempted). No starry eyed acceptance but a mature one. Yes, I agree with the reviewer who called this book "a romance for grown ups", it is that and more.
There is so much more I loved in the book:
* Henry - the man is already dead when the book begins and yet he is one of the main characters as he was a shaping force of both our hero and heroine.
* The rolls reversal between the male and female - Submit is the strong cool-headed one while our hero Graham is the emotional needy one.
* The consistent behavior of the characters, start to finish. No unexplained out of characters starts here.
* Graham's relationship with his mistress, which I thought further illuminated his personality. I disagree with the reviewers who felt his involvement with Rosalyn detracted from the story.
So why after raving so much I give a grade of 4 stars?
Because as I mentioned at the beginning of my review the pacing was uneven, a few chapters were too detailed, and though I realize they were meant to reveal what drives Graham in the pattern of his life, long paragraphs could have been shortened to a few lines without detracting from the story, and at the same time move the story forward more fluently. So imagine how frustrating it was to finish the book and realize that some of the issues depicted in these paragraphs were left untied, for example: Graham's children disappeared in the middle of the book never to be heard of again or the struggling twin's fate...
These and a few other minor flaws prevent the book from being a 5 stars read but the book is so unusual, the characterization so remarkable that I urge you to read it. For me "Black Silk" is a keeper.
P.S. - "Black Silk" was my first Ivory book. After reading it I tried one of her latest books and it didn't come close to this one. While some of her writing style is recognized I felt it lacked the depth of Black Silk. So even if you are not a fan of Ivory's current writings you might want to give Black Silk a try, it's worth it.
If you are looking for a mindless story to skim thru for the sex, this is NOT your book. Ivory goes deep into what love and attraction can mean and do to people, then builds an erotic tension that more or less combusts when the hero and heroine least expect it. Black Silk doesn't read like a traditional romance. It is its own kind of love story and not to be missed if you long for something unique in a genre that doesn't always specialize in one-of-a kind concepts. Pass if you like to be lead by the nose through a comfortably familiar story, though this one does begin with some familiar ideas: the rake, the widow in dire straits. If you enjoy unexpected twists, however, as a book assembles itself like a well-built, complicated puzzle, you'll fall in love with this story and keep it on your shelf for rereading.
This version of Black Silk is an "author-enhanced" (some romance site reviewer said this somewhere) reprint of a cult classic from the early 90's that fully deserves the attention of this versitile author's new, much larger audience. It's like none of her other books. But then which of her books are? Only the author's style seems to link her books, while each novel--each new set of characters, each new story--seem an attempt to reinvent the romance paperback again and again to the author's own liking.
Graham Wessit, the Earl of Nethem, is a lonely ne'er-do-well, a lady's man. In a simple romance he would be reformed by the love of a good woman. In this book he treats his mistress, a married American woman, approximately the same way he treats the heroine, Submit Channing-Downs. He has a keen and rude sexual interest in women but he also wants to be friends with them in a completely believable characterization. His riches and poor reputation have him spend the first several chapters of the book unsuccessfully defending himself against a paternity suit. The world at large thinks he is getting what he deserves and Graham sulks about the fact that not even his attorney believes he is innocent.
Graham is summed up by an exchange with his attorney :
"It is a shame to see someone your age so cynical. Especially someone who has as much as you."
Gathering his things, Graham said, "I am up to here" - he made a chop at the underside of his chin - "with how much I have."
Submit Channing-Downs, on the other hand, has spent her life before Graham doing what other people tell her to do. She married the older man her father picked out to take care of her - Henry Channing-Downs, the marquess of Montmarche - and did what she was told through the burial the carrying out of his last bequests. Unfortunately, her husband left an illegitimate son who has her immediately removed from the properties that were left to her, out of pique that he was recognized in cash but not in title or property. She disregards her lawyer's advice to let someone else deal with Henry's oddest bequest - a simple box, left to his cousin and in previous times ward Graham Wessit.
Submit comes into the book a distant figure wrapped in black, and soon decides to have a personality of her own; an understandable reaction when humble obedience leaves one out on the street.
The strange relationship evolving between Graham and Submit, and the legal battles between Submit and Henry's illegitimate son, make the entire middle part of the book feel like some sort of surreal dance. There are many partners swinging in and out : Graham's mistress, her unashamedly loving husband, Submit's lawyer, her opponent William, Graham's legally allotted children - Add the despondent mother who won the suit against Graham and the deceased : Henry, a maid Graham had an affair with once, and objects: the box and its contents, the serial that keeps appearing in a magazine mocking Graham's life... Each individual and each object has something to bring to the story, and each addition is something of a surprise.
The wrapping-up follows many twists and turns, and is tied up with one final neat surprise, like a bow on an elaborate gift. Enjoy!