1.0 out of 5 starsAn Exercise In Style That Goes Nowhere
3 September 2002 - Published on Amazon.com
Elizabeth Knox faced a tough challenge in writing a follow up to her exquisite novel, The Vintner's Luck. However, given the skill that was displayed in that earlier work, a reader could hope that the same type of unforgettable characters and a similarly subversive philosophical theme would be found in Billie's Kiss. Unfortunately, Billie's Kiss contains none of the qualities that made The Vintner's Luck so special. Instead of maintaining the strengths she displayed in other works, Knox decided to try to center Billie's Kiss around a particular style. The style she chose was the Gothic Romance of the 19th Century. In truth, she did manage to vividly portray the book's setting in the islands north of Scotland. However, while she managed to match a Gothic Romance's setting, she failed to adequately develop any of the style's other characteristics. Especially notable in their absence were the strong characters usually found in this genre. There aren't any characters as memorable as Heathcliff and Catherine in Billie's Kiss. Instead, we're left with a bland protagonist who would be instantly forgettable if it weren't for the fact that she has pink hair. The only character worth mentioning is Lord Hollowhume, who is clearly Knox's device for continuing the exploration of God's personality that she established in The Vintner's Luck. Knox's version of God is a terrible being whose jealousy and manipulations bring ruin to all. However, if it weren't for these qualities which come forth from this exploration, Lord Hollowhume would be as forgettable as the others in this book. It seems apparent that Billie's Kiss was Knox's attempt to mimic the sweeping passions and powerful landscapes that typify the Gothic Romance. Yet, the Gothic Romance wasn't just about style. The genre's best works contained memorable characters for which the reader cared and an emotional sincerity that still rings true today. Without those characteristics present, one is left with a tedious read whose ending is simply outlandish. Billie's Kiss is a major disappointment on all levels, and a work that should definitely be avoided.
3.0 out of 5 starsIn the shadow of Wuthering Heights...
27 June 2009 - Published on Amazon.com
Brooding, gloomy, star-crossed; this is the atmosphere that permenates this novel like a heavy, moldy fog. Our heroine Billie (actually Wilhemia)is introduced as she, her pregnant sister Edith and Edith's husband Henry are crossing to the Scottish island Kissack on a freighter in the early 1900's. Henry is to index the library of the local laird, Hallowhulme, and Billie and Edith accompany him to assist. Just as the ship pulls into the pier at Kissack, Billie runs out of the hold and jumps to the dock. An explosion rocks the ship immediately thereafter and sinks the freighter with loss of life . Is it an accident or premeditated? Did Billie play a part? If not, who did?
The ensuing investigation by Murdo, Hallowhulme's cousin and business manager, who was also aboard the freighter, reveals the mistakes of Murdo's own past through flashback. Murdo as well has had emotional entanglements with Lady Hallowhulme and Lady Hallowhulme's daughter. The web grows more ensnarled with each page and the general resistance of the locals to Lord Hallowhulme's improvement schemes add to the mix.
5.0 out of 5 starsRomantic (in the old sense of the word)
1 October 2002 - Published on Amazon.com
A penniless young woman, a bit simple (perhaps dyslexic?), a survivor of a dockside explosion on a bleakly-remote Scottish island...A moody relative of the local landowner, suspicious of/attracted to the young woman in question...A comotose brother-in-law, a pompous (but generous) rich paterfamilias and his various relatives and hangers-on... The recipe for a turgid potboiler, a typical Gothic romance? Well, if you think of the word "romantic" as having its base in the word "roman," the French for "book," then I guess that Billie's Kiss fits the definition, but in Elizabeth Knox's capable hands, this homage to the old-fashioned thriller goes far beyond the expected. Her writing captivates, catching her characters' complexities of personality in a just a few deft lines. She has the ability to make the unexpected and unlikely perfectly believable---this novel is nothing like her previous book, The Vintner's Luck, but they share a profound sense of edgy otherworldliness, of inexplicable fate, and her writing skills are such as to pull the reader thouroughly and willingly into her world-view. I liked this one very much, and I am eager for Ms. Knox's next.
I loved this book, as I've loved all of Knox's work so far. Her writing is gorgeous, and I always try to take my time reading her books simply to enjoy the language. The story, as her previous ones have been, is less about the mystery of the boat's explosion and more about the people involved. Knox's characters are all fascinating, and I lost myself in the story, not wanting to put the book down (a problem when in graduate school).
I tend to think of Knox's books not as thrillers or mysteries or dramas, but as character studies - watching the characters as their lives mesh or tear apart, as they are wounded and as they heal. The plot is interesting and intricate, but it still takes a back seat to the lives of Billie, Murdo and Geordie. Absolutely gorgeous book.