Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shamelessly enjoyable rewrite of 'Gone With The Wind', 5 April 2011
This review is from: Forever Amber (Paperback)
Amber fulfils what may be many a young girl's dream, by being spit-makingly beautiful and absolutely horrible. Abandoned penniless and pregnant on the streets of 1660s London at the start of the novel, Amber is, let's be fair, not just no better than she should be, but considerably worse. She steals her lovers from other women and crows about it; she lies, cheats and schemes, locks an old woman in a room to die alone of the Plague; she is utterly feline, sybaritic and selfish. I'm not the only person to have noticed that this book is in some ways a rewrite of "Gone With The Wind;" Amber can't have the man she loves, she can't love the man she has, and so she ends up treating everyone horribly, making everyone miserable, and deserves everything she gets. But still, she is a heroine to women. Not so much to male readers I suspect; we don't tend to like Scarlett O'Hara much either, we think she's a bit of an annoying tit, but somehow women, even if they dislike her, are drawn to her like magnets. I don't think this book would have sold three million copies if Amber wasn't somehow oddly lovable - she lives by her wits and she has spirit, even if, like Scarlett, she has a singular talent for unhappiness. "No woman is ever satisfied unless she knows she can hurt the man who loves her," is one of Winsor's precious pearls of wisdom, which might I suppose be true, but is a pretty depressing thought.

It sounds as though I didn't like this book, but I did. For a start, I have never read a thousand-page novel faster, and the Plague section at the heart of the book (roughly pages 450-550) is amazing. This isn't just Defoe re-told, it's a visceral journey through hell that really doesn't seem to belong in a romantic fiction novel, with all the symptoms described in horrific detail as she kills off and disposes of three nurses in quick succession, mopping up blood, pus and sick - and finally falls ill with the Plague herself. But of course she survives. Pepys is the background to the book, 1660-1670, and he seems to provide the majority of Winsor's research, as she firmly takes the `official line,' seeing the Puritans as a kind of Taliban and the corrupt Stuart court as a golden age. The Americanisms throughout (`in back,' `standing in line,' `mad' for `angry' etc) sit a little oddly in the context, but not as much as the occasional complete misunderstandings of custom (a young person seeing their aristocratic father and calling out "Dad!" for instance, when it could only have been "Sir" - and they would never have dared speak first) and a bizarre ignorance of how boats work. The book was published in 1944 (eight years after `Gone With...") and I felt at times there were slightly heavy-handed parallels being drawn between London in the Blitz and the `Great Fire' section. But none of these things stop it being utterly compelling. Since finishing it, I found a short piece by Elaine Showalter about the book, who describes the breathless accounts of Amber's outfits, which can go on for a page at a time with all the silks, laces and layers, as a kind of rationing-era fashion porn. My mum told she remembered nursing my older brother whilst reading the passage where Amber's first child is taken away from her, and how that affected her. It reminded me too of the Margaret Lockwood film "The Wicked Lady," which I saw at the age of 5 or 6 and loved. As a child I loved the central character; watching it again as an adult I found myself wanting to identify instead with every other character around her, and wish her a sticky end herself. I'm not going to tell you what happens at the end of the book, though.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Mar 2013 19:35:09 GMT
Nell Gwynn says:
It is not a re write! It is similar but any idiot knows Gone with the wind was set in the 19th century and this was set in the 17th century!!! If you do not even know your basic history then you are not fit to write a worthy review!!

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Mar 2013 20:11:25 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 11 Mar 2013 20:12:05 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Mar 2013 20:13:25 GMT
Geoff Sawers says:
Thank you, Nell. As you were born in the 17th century yourself I would not dare to debate historical points with you; let me just clarify that I thought the plot and characterisation were derived from 'Gone With The Wind', not the historical setting.
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