Black Silk / Judith Ivory. 2002
Not long ago, Jessica mentioned on her blog that she was going to post a review of Judith Ivory’s Black Silk. A few commenters mentioned how they were looking forward to the review. I have to admit, that got me curious. I’d heard of this book, but couldn’t remember where or what. So I looked it up at AAR and found quite a compelling DIK review of the book by Sherry Thomas. Naturally, I had to see for myself what all of the fuss was about, so I reserved Black Silk from the library and finished it up this week.
Oh my. There’s no way I can do this book justice.
If you love words, if you love rich, evocative prose that delivers you into another time and place, this book is for you. It is not meant to be read quickly, but slowly and thoroughly. That means sticking through the first part of the book with its long descriptive passages. There's not much action at first, but the setup is used so effectively to reveal the personalities and characters of the protagonists, Graham Wessit and his cousin-by-marriage, Submit Channing-Downes.
That means if you crave action, this book is not for you. It is a purely character-driven book. Submit had had a happy marriage with Henry Channing-Downes, a man some 30 or 40 years her senior. She was 16 when she married him and is nearing 30 now. Graham had been Henry’s ward and Henry and Graham had had nothing but contempt for one another. Submit and Graham have polar opposite opinions of Henry but are brought together because of an unusual bequest in Henry’s will. Submit is studious, sober, and intent on fulfilling Henry's wishes by delivering the bequest. Graham is fun-loving, flighty, and while intent on having no part of that bequest, he does find himself intrigued by Submit. As a widow, Submit is in mourning, dressed in black (hence the name of the book), while Graham wears brightly colored vests, decorated with multiple watches and chains, as well as multiple rings on his fingers. Ivory spends a lot of time using their wardrobes as metaphors for their personalities. It was brilliantly done.
If you love witty, sharp dialogue, this book is for you. Graham and Submit are in turn challenged and frustrated by one another. They disagree on many things and underestimate on another. It makes for some interesting conversation when they are together.
If you want your romance to take a traditional course where boy meets girl and immediately forsakes all others, this book is not for you. Throughout at least 3/4 of the book, Graham keeps a mistress and she is a central character to the story. While Graham is becoming more and more intrigued by and attracted to Submit, he is still involved with his mistress. This violates one of those unwritten taboos in the genre, which for me made the book all the more interesting because it did so. (That taboo being that once the hero meets the heroine he stays out of any other woman's bed.)
I loved how Graham is revealed to be much more serious and responsible than he appears to be in the beginning. And when Submit is given a taste of independence and freedom she embraces the idea that she--a woman in a male-dominated society--can have a much richer life than she had imagined. She discovers she can earn her own way and she is excited by the thought.
But that does bring me to my one complaint. I won’t be specific for fear of spoilers. At the very end of the book, just before she and Graham get together, Submit makes a choice that seemed so very out of character, especially since she had embraced her independence. Why would she make such a choice? Suddenly she is running away to America, and that runs counter to all that had come before. It struck me as the author adding conflict for the sake of conflict.
Fortunately, and naturally, all’s well that ends well. And I found it an enchanting journey. Black Silk was my first Ivory. I must read more. Meanwhile, I highly recommend this one and can’t wait to see some discussion about it over at Jessica’s, or maybe over here where Lusty Reader read it, but did NOT like it. I'm hoping we'll hear why.