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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Eloisa on the Pleasures of Innuendo

Welcome to the Saturday Book Blog!

The subject is one of my favorite books from this year, Lord Perfect, by Loretta Chase. I think Loretta is one of the very best writers we have: her characters are idiosyncratic and interesting, and her stories are sensually delicious. Lord Perfect is the story of a man who has it all in spades, and knows it. Benedict Carsington is an earl, and perfect in every way (he never even sweats--just disregard that picture on the cover!). Bathsheba Wingate is a nightmare, from his point of view: she's from a family of rascals, her daughter's an obvious hoyden, and she's far too...too tempting. Especially in the bath, given her biblical name. Of course Benedict gets tempted. Of course, he succumbs. So will you.

Here's my point, though. We certainly have romance writers who can create sizzling sensuality and unusual characters. But we have very few who can write truly funny, witty prose -- and I think Loretta Chase stands alone when it comes to dialogue. What Bathsheba and Benedict do best (and I suspect those names are supposed to bring to mind Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing) is insult each other.

Dictionary.com gives the definition of "insult" as "To give offense; offend: a speech that was intended to insult."

The cleverest of insults, to my mind, are the ones that take moment to understand. Here's a good one, along those lines: Gore Vidal's comment about Andy Warhal: "the only genius with an IQ of 60." Ouch!

My favorite insults turn away from offence and toward desire. After all, a romance writer faces the task of bringing men and women together over and over and over, in different books. In the beginning you might think it's more than enough to write: "He desired her. He thought about how much he would like to put tab A into..." After a book or two, you start to hanker after clever conversation. Even insults. I love it when the dance into bed isn't marked by buttons flying around the room, but by delicious innuendo.

Lord Perfect is rife with insults: the desiring, funny, sarcastic kind. Here's an example of insults used brilliantly to create a flirty conversation (you should know that Benedict and Bathsheba are drunk as skunks at this moment and in an inn, pretending to be a married couple):

He drained the contents and stood. The room tilted slightly. "Time for bed. Important day tomorrow. Decisions."
. . .
"That is what I like about you, Mr. Dashwood," she said. "You are so decisive. It saves me all the bother of thinking for myself."

"That is what I like about you, Mrs. Dashwood," he said. "You are so sarcastic. It saves me the bother of trying to be tactful and charming."

This one isn't an insult, but a brilliantly executed bit of conversation (quite true to men's imaginations too):

While he tied her petticoat, she swallowed and said, "I daresay proper ladies do not unbutton gentlemen's trousers."

"They do not do that," he said as he tugged her frock straight, "nearly so often as one could wish."

Loretta Chase is one of my favorite writers. I honestly think that Lord of Scoundrels is probably the best historical ever written -- anyone else read Lord Perfect or any other Loretta Chase novel? If you've already got your hands on Lord Perfect, what's your favorite line?
Eloisa James, 1:30 PM