Saturday, August 30, 2008
Author: Judith Ivory
Publishing Date: 1997
If you haven’t yet guessed, Beast is an adult version of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Charles d’Harcourt plays the Beast. He is blind in one eye from an infection during his infancy. The doctor lanced the eye and it left permanent scaring. The ingenuity in this tale is that Charles is actually very vain. He uses his scars and muscular physique to woo the ladies. He is quite the accomplished ladies man and is very suave and debonair. He plays them like musical instruments, making them hum.
Louise Vandermeer, an American heiress plays the role of Beauty. She is exquisite; unlike anything Charles has ever seen before. Louise has grown up in a house of love. She has been cherished and above all spoiled. Surprisingly enough, she has a love/hate relationship with her beauty. She likes being beautiful, but she wonders if there is more to her than just her pretty face. Does she have worth outside of her looks? She is young, only eighteen and is trying to discover who she is.
There is a duality to Beast from both characters Charles and Louise, to the flow of the plot in the story. The first part of the book takes place on a ship as Louise is traveling from America to France to meet her Fiancé and marry him. On the ship Charles witnesses Louise flirting with a young lieutenant and concocts up a scheme to woo her without her knowing that he is really her intended. While on the boat Charles is smooth and mysterious, confident that he can seduce Louise. He is more than successful. Louise herself opens up to him like she has never done with another living soul before. At the end of the affair she still doesn’t know who he his and has fallen madly in love with him.
In the second half of the book after Charles and Louise have been formerly introduced the whole tone of the story changes completely. Now Charles has this secret hanging over his head and his sweet loving Louise has become cold and distant. Charles himself changes too. He becomes unsure of himself and vulnerable to Louise. Does she find his scarring repulsive? He looses his confidence and can’t seem to get on even footing with her. At this point since Charles won’t tell his secret, he will have to woo her all over again and that is exactly what he sets out to do.
Judith Ivory has taken a well loved classic and made it fresh and unique. There are so many hidden messages and metaphors that just show the time and effort Ms. Ivory put into crafting this story. While some readers may find the characters selfish and unlikeable, I found them to be very human and complex. The focus is completely on Charles and Louise and their relationship with relatively little outside influence from anything else. There is no mystery. All the conflict revolves around Charles and Louise and how they have affected each other. This was a brilliant story and one that I am sure if reread would reveal hidden meanings I missed the first time through.