Gitta's Literary Escapades

Just another reader taking on (modern) classics, best-sellers, award-winners, non-fiction, and (guilty pleasure) chicklit armed with common sense, a brain and feminism.

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless  - Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti has no soul, she is a praeternatural whose kind is meant to combat those with excess soul: vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. She is also a spinster, who carries a parasol to swat intolerable men away. When a bloodthirsty vampire tries to feed on her, she kills him with it. Where did this clueless vampire come from who seemed to have mist the initiation lesson on how to be a vampire in Victorian London?

 

I am not sure what this book was meant to be; this book truly is all over the genre map. Though I do enjoy a good cross-over, Carriger seems to have been eager to throw all her literary aspirations into one story. Let's write a romance. Wait! Let's include steampunk to appeal to an Indie audience. Add vampires and werewolves, teenage girls will eat it up! And finally, let's use the mystery genre as the foundation of this genre-mess.

 

As a result, this book fails to excel in any genre in particular. It is generic; the worst epithet to assign to any book, in my opinion.

 

Though the protagonist Alexia comes across as a strong female character, she is lost in the melting pot of genre-fiction and famous story-lines. The setting is Victorian London, with a decisively Gothic air about it, where supernatural creatures -- vampires and werewolves --, humans, and praeternaturals co-exist according to nineteenth-century English customs to uphold decorum. So far nothing is wrong.

 

Feminist CinderellaThe story-line and its archetypes/stereotypes, however, are boringly familiar. À la Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre and Cinderella, Alexia has the standard inferiority complex (a plain spinster who is actually breathtakingly stunning). After the initial riveting action-scene, things begin to unravel as the author begins to play in on these types and to entertain the male gaze. For example, Alexia realises herself that she is plain and has an appalling character, but, observing herself in the mirror, she realises she is very happy to have been blessed with such an exotic, curvaceous figure (aka breasts). Oddly enough, despite of this pseudo-inferiority complex, Alexia does seem to find it in her heart to criticise her dearest friend, who is of lower social standing, and gossip to the reader about her, and she shames her for her prudery. A woman with any type of sexuality can do no good in this novel.

 

As if this is not enough, Carriger is blatantly racist in her character descriptions. Though this can be expected from authentic nineteenth-century novels, where it was either explicitly referred to (Jane Eyre's madwoman in the attic Bertha Mason) or dubiously ignored (Jane Austen ignoring slavery as the source of wealth for many of the gentry in her novels). The openly stated racism is something that I do not care for in a twenty-first century book: the constant referring to Alexia's dark complexion and 'exotic' features as someone whose father was Italian, and her half-Italian heritage being the justification of her temper and character to her 'Italian blood'. It may be that the constant racist remarks made to Alexia by her own family (mother, stepfather, and stepsisters) made her think little of herself, or self-project that racism. However, given that she is simultaneously presented as a strong-minded woman who appears to strive for gender equality, it seems inconsistent that she seems so uncomfortable with her own heritage. Therefore, what we are left is a dislikeable protagonist.

 

Furthermore, she draws on the snobbish assertion that one's true nature -- for example, country bumpkin -- can never truly be abandoned as she relates how Lord Connor Maccon's Scottish accent thickens when his temper grows; describing his Scottish origins as 'boorish', 'crude', and in animalistic terms. Again, the English did think little of the Welsh, Scottish, and (Northern) Irish, but, for the aforementioned reasons, Alexia, of all people, should know that racist, elitist, superiority complex is inappropriate. But for some reason, even though she is only half-English, she feels superior to her Scottish lover, who is her social superior.

 

The fetishisation and objectification of Connor increases as the exotic, oriental, and Other Alexia is drawn in by his 'brutish' masculinity, and the scenes become altogether animalistic and socially unacceptably passionate when their combined Otherness leads them to break with decorum and fraternise in the middle of the street. Dear me! As an alpha werewolf Connor is hyper-masculinised, and vampires are feminised by featuring prominently as sassy homosexuals whose 'foppish' decadency and 'outrageous' 'absurdity' is somehow justified because they existed during the Rococo movement and who now go through Victorian life as French hairstyling dandies. The descriptions of Lord Akeldama, the gay best-friend, were clearly meant to imitate P.G. Wodehouse or Jerome K. Jerome, but fails miserable and damages the assumed intellect of the author. Racist and sexist jokes, really? Alexia's internal dialogue and gossip about her best friends is downright intolerable. The amount of insulting remarks she makes about her friend's sense of fashion, makes one question the validity of that friendship. It seems as if Alexia really cannot stand her best friend, whose social inferiority and uneducated character make it insufferable for her to have the poor girl around.

 

Sure, you can easily read the erotic scenes as a titillating exercise of Alexia's authority through disregarding nineteenth-century prudery in favour of an anachronistic feminist reclaiming of the female sexuality. But it is not; she is a passive recipient of his authority, and any strength the character of Alexia once had is now lost forever. In this all too familiar Pride and Prejudice like story (grumpy, wealthy, eternal-bachelor Lord secretly loves unwomanly clever and assertive woman, professes his love, she slowly realises she loves him too), Alexia's entire being and survival is now reliant upon having Connor's love and protection. Welcome to the Sookie Stackhouse-Bella Swan-Katniss Everdeen-club.

  

First page of the manga edition of Soulless

First page of the manga edition of Soulless (See links below).

 

Let's pretend I had been able to look past the major aforementioned flaws, had not felt disillusioned genre-wise, and would not have felt like I was reading a Sherlockian Austen/Bronte/Meyer fan-fiction, Carriger needs to work on her world-building skills and on her general understanding of the human mind to create complex characters. Alexia, being soulless, we are told, has no morals, but does have feelings and an identity. Normally, a lack of morals stems from a lack of empathy (i.e. psychopathy, or sociopathy) and an inability to recognise and identify with the emotions of others. Nonetheless, Alexia makes observations that indicate she is able to empathise. Deducing, for example, from a situation that a snort must have been a repressed laugh. There are countless other examples of Alexia's ability to empathise with the emotions of her friends, and to manipulate and abuse these at times. Nonetheless, Alexia's character is not consistent. How does a character who has no moral compass know/feel that what the steampunk scientists are doing is "wrong"? Alexia's main character trait - her lack of soul - crumbles within the first chapter.

 

Though not the worst book I have read, its racism and sexism did vex my poor nerves once too many. What does one have to do to find a relaxing bed-time reading book? When I started this book I had been looking for a steampunk novel with strong female characters and some genuine adventure, so feel free to leave some suggestions by commenting, because Soulless simply will not do.

 

 

Details & Buy

   

First published:

2009

Original title:

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)

Author:

Gail Carriger

Edition:

Ebook (Orbit, 2009)

Pages:

258

Read:

21-23 August 2013

ISBN:

031607165X, 9780316071659

 

 

Official website

Wikipedia

Amazon USA: Book,

Manga (Volume 1 of 3)

Amazon UK: Book,

Manga (Volume 1 of 3)

Book Depository USA

Book Depository UK

Abebooks USA

Abebooks UK

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