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::: Forever Amber (Winsor)

This book is definitely not Great Literature (lots of tell vs show, one-dimensional characters, etc, but the period details are excellent, which of course pleases Historian Me), but it's an epic page-turner nonetheless and I must admit I love it. It's like the British version of Gone with the Wind. Little orphaned Amber St. Clare, raised as a farmer's daughter in the tiny little town of Marygreen, sleeps/marries her way to the top and ends up rich, powerful, and mistress to Charles II. Shows what you can do with tawny hair, green eyes, perky tits, and a certain -- OK, a total -- lack of scruples. Unlike Scarlett O'Hara, she actually gets to sleep with the guy she obsesses over, but alas, it doesn't cure her (I've long thought that if Ashley had just schtupped Scarlett once she would have gotten over him) and eventually it leads her to do things ranging from foolish to downright cruel.

For most of it you feel at least a little sorry for her; like Scarlett, she gets what she thinks she wanted but finds out it isn't enough, and Lord Carlton comes across as a pretty much a total prick. She saves him from the plague, gives him a son, loves him for years despite his (and her own) infidelities, but the ungrateful dog won't marry her! And he keeps leading her on by telling her he's breaking off their affair and then letting her seduce him back. I'd forgotten the ending, though. By that point she's gotten so irrational you're rooting for Lord Carlton and Corinna, so the conclusion leaves you thinking, "My god, are these poor people never going to escape this obsessive psychopath??"

I did a little googling (ah, the wonders of technology!) and found out the book was famous in its time -- translated into ten languages, banned in 14 states, mentioned directly or indirectly in tons of radio and tv sketches, all kind of brouhaha. The first state to ban it was Massachusetts, for "70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and 10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men." Ooh, so racy. And to think, Massachusetts now allows gay marriages. How times do change.

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