Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Oxford Chronicles by Melanie M. Jeschke

(In which I still giggle about romantic clichés.)

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I bought the new edition of The Oxford Chronicles by first-time novelist Melanie M. Jeschke which includes Inklings and its sequel Intentions. The combination of the first two parts in one book made the reading terrible long. At the end of the book, I felt the need to purchase the third part (Expectations) and the prequel (Evasions) not because the tandem of Inklings and Intentions was wonderful. Here’s why.
On C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

Reviewers of the book commend Jeschke for writing such a great novel and recommend the book to the fans of C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. However, as far as I know, Jeschke just included parts of their biographies with more concentration on C.S Lewis’. I suppose that hard-core fans and even some less enthusiastic ones might have already taken note of those. I was actually expecting a critical discussion of their works in the meetings by the new Inklings society sponsored by the fictional David MacKenzie. It would be really thrilling to see this done on the next books, instead of just having the authors’ names and works mentioned in conversations to the extent that it seemed like a desperate approach to give the novel a more erudite feel.

Setting

The story takes place in Oxford University, 1960. Sadly, I was trying in vain to feel the setting until the end of the book. It seemed that had it not been for the mentioning of C.S Lewis’ death, the appearance of J.R.R. Tolkien in one of the students’ meetings and the French twist, the story could be mistaken to have happened in the present. I believe it could have been better if a historical event that would create another impact on the characters was included in the novel, so the characters won’t seem to inhabit a world of their own, separate from their time.

Characters

American Christian Katherine Lee Hughes – pretty, rich, charming and intelligent – went to Oxford University to study and was tutored by the 25-year-old Christian don David MacKenzie, a fabulously smart, athletic and handsome gentleman. But Kate (Katherine) was also being pursued by the dashing Lord Stuart Devereux – a gorgeous but sycophantic nobleman who acts like a gentleman when sober. I hope the author didn’t intend them to appear like characters in a fairy tale with all their aristocratic beauty and demeanor only twisted by a little darkness required when they are in a somewhat antagonistic role. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that they are almost physically perfect.

And speaking of someone being physically astonishing, David’s mother Annie never cease to amaze me every time I read how miraculously slender, beautiful and youthful she still is after giving birth to seven children and being a homemaker round-the-clock. Yes, it’s amazing. But I doubt if it’s realistic.

The Romantic Plot

Aside from the David-Kate-Stuart love triangle, another angle was made. Charlotte, the (yet another) seductively beautiful ex-fiancée of David makes her way to complicate the already complicated chain and make it difficult for David to maintain his Christian plan. Every time he tries to convince Kate that everything’s done between him and Charlotte, the latter devises a way to mess things up in her desperation to win David back.

David’s friends and family, who are Christians, are always ready to help and advise him since all of them want him to end up with Kate.

That’s basically it. The lack of a more complicated plot actually makes the reading more like watching a cheesy soap opera.

What I Really Wanted To Say

Inklings and Intensions talk about the start of David and Kate’s romance set in Oxford and end with their first kiss at the altar after getting married. It is basically a novel about how a couple find their way to true love by trusting God. It also deals with the conflict between appearance and reality. What people see as truth may not be the reality. People easily believe what they see or what other people make them see that they entirely miss the truth. Also, it talks about the conflict between Christian values and the current fashion. In the novel, Kate and David succeeded not only in saving their sexual purity before marriage but also their first kiss in a society where chastity is a thing of the past. I actually have nothing against the values in this novel.

However, with its descriptive paragraphs which are not very stimulating to the imagination, overly romantic males and somewhat immature females as well as a soap opera type of courtship, I believe what really made this novel earn incredible reviews are the values of chastity and purity and the classic and erudite atmosphere of Oxford.

I am looking forward to the next series to find out if there will be discussions of literary works of English authors and if more attention will be given to the other characters especially to Stuart Devereux. I believe he is the most interesting character in the novel. He is a lord, a royalty – someone who physically has it all. But he has the most complex personal history (and attitude) of all the characters. His existence is brought merely by the need of an heir. He has an opportunist and a philanderer as a father and an alcoholic as a mother and he resents them both. It would be noted that he himself has difficulty controlling his alcohol intake and behaves lasciviously when drunk. He seemed to be a major threat to Kate and David’s relationship but ended up as the one who saved the couple’s wedding. It would be good to know if he sought and found redemption.

On a lighter note, I must admit something in the novel touches me that I found myself giggling to funny scenarios and sigh at the romantic and cheesy moments. After reading the first two installments, I was filled with ambivalence.



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