Harlequin Presents #451
A Mysterious Beginning
Crescendo by Charlotte Lamb starts like a hazy dream. A beautiful girl stands at the cliffs, and a strange man, thinking she’s about to jump, runs to save her. She isn’t; she’s just admiring the savage beauty of her coastal home. There is an instant connection between the girl, Marina, and Gideon, the stranger, who is much older. Marina lives alone with her grandfather, plays the piano beautifully, and at night shares her thoughts with her best friends, two dolls. There are secrets hidden in this tale that slowly unravel to reveal a different story altogether.
Crescendo deals with an issue that has always puzzled me. Why are so many heroes in romances absolute horndog sluts? It’s not simply about being good in bed. A man doesn’t need to sleep with legions of women to know how to do this! He only needs to know a few, or just one, very well. There is a perceived allure of getting–and keeping—the one man that no other woman could keep.
There’s just something bizarre to me about how this situation is usually dealt with in books. The hero’s lovers can number in the hundreds or more, and he doesn’t really care for these women. He just uses them sexually until he meets the heroine (often virginal or inexperienced). Then she changes his man-ho ways forevermore. Usually, the heroine appreciates her man’s experience as it brings great sexual pleasure in bed. Likewise, the hero appreciates the woman’s inexperience, as this pleases him emotionally.
There’s something that rings so false about this. I am a great believer in the special ying-yang, complementary nature of male and female relationships, but I prefer the pair to be “equally yoked,” so to speak. I’d like to see more virgin heroes paired with virgin heroines. Conversely, I’d like to see mature, sexually experienced men with women of similar familiarity. (That doesn’t mean I want them to be walking STDs, though.)
So here in Crescendo is naïve, innocent Marina and Gideon, a cad with women, loving and leaving them without caring for their feelings. There is a great depth to Marina’s character and she is far more insightful than Gideon, who is many years older than she.
Marina learns from her painful past and demands accountability when wronged. I don’t particularly appreciate having heroes grovel endlessly for their hurtful deeds, but major penance is required here. Unfortunately, Gideon was so cold-hearted in his pursuit of Marina that he didn’t take anyone’s feelings into account, not Marina’s and certainly not his disposable mistresses’.
The Philosophy of Love
When Charlotte Lamb was bad, she was awful, but when she was good, there was absolutely no one better. Her best works were not shallow and often posed philosophical queries, questioning the nature of love and desire. So how does a man like Gideon come into being? In Gideon‘s case, he’s not evil. Instead, his mother spoiled her boy rotten while micro-managing every aspect of his personal life, thus creating this hateful, self-centered male creature.
He says to Marina: “[Women] stifle you, smother you, and cling round like ivy. I decided when I grew up that women had their uses but had to be firmly kept in their place. I learnt to use them, and then kick them out of my life… Yes, it isn’t pretty. I could lie to you and hide all of that, but I don’t want any more secrets between us, Marina. I want you to know what I am, what I’ve been.”
So how can a man date a woman, leave her, then date her again, make her fall in love with him, seduce her, impregnate her, marry her, and then betray her, all the time never giving any love in return all while siphoning every ounce of feeling from her and then be easily forgiven?
In Crescendo, he isn’t.
No Love Without Change and Forgiveness
“No human being has a right to put his own desires in front of the happiness of anyone else. Gideon’s brilliance did not give him that right.”
And here Marina observes:
“For all his brilliance as a musician, Gideon had been stunted in his emotional growth in childhood; unable to coordinate the demands of body and heart, like an autistic child which never makes the right connections and is isolated from those around him by his own self-absorbed internal life.”
Crescendo is the antithesis to all the romances where the hero is a jerk to the heroine, then on the last few pages, he makes a declaration of love, and they embrace and walk happily off into their ever-after. Not here. Marina makes Gideon hurt as she wrenches his heart out of him; she’s ruthless in her cruelty to him.
“’You don’t love me—you never have. You wouldn’t know how to love. Frustrated desire was all you ever felt for me, and it’s all you feel now… And I don’t love you. If anything I despise you!’…It had given her a tortured pleasure to say that to him, to be aware that she had finally hurt him as deeply as he had ever hurt her.”
Final Analysis of Crescendo
Lamb’s language here is so beautiful, so haunting, and so thoughtful. The conclusion is believable and fitting. I love Marina. Some readers may judge her as too harsh, but she’s so young compared to Gideon that she has to have a strong sense of herself before they can be together. Gideon has to understand who and what he is and that he can’t remain that way if he wants a monogamous, life-long relationship with a woman he loves. The fairytale must yield to reality.
“They had each taken a silent, bitter journey into themselves, but they had returned, like characters in a fairy story, with miraculous discoveries.”