Monday, March 25, 2024

The Force of Such Beauty

The Force of Such Beauty
  The Force of Such Beauty
Author:  Barbara Bourland
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2022. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0593329341 / 978-0593329344

Rating:   ★★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The last time they caught me at the airport, I panicked."

Favorite Quote:  "All fairy tales serve the same purpose. One woman's story, told to warn the others. Here is how I lost my feet here is how I lost my voice; here is how I lost my children. Here is the moment I was given from my father to my husband. Here is where the danger lies: the man with the blue beard, the urge in the forest, the tricky gentleman, the lying merchant, the prince in the tower. Fairy tales are not about sparkling shoes or white cats. They are about the ribbons that adorn, then, sever your neck."

The author's note expresses what this book attempts to capture. "For a real-life woman sitting across from a prince, the princess story skips the middleman and marries you directly to the state itself. It's logical. It's rational. It's the desire for a better life. And what could be more human than that? There will always be princesses. Yet - what must it take to spend each day tow steps behind your partner, always in shadow? What must it take from you to discard yourself - modernity, even - in exchange for the illusion of safety? In the case of this book's narrator, Caroline Muller, it takes everything."

Caroline Muller is an athlete, an Olympian, a medalist. Her entire life has been about running. Her elite athlete status has led a to privileged and sheltered life. Everything revolves around her career, and everyone revolves around her, the star. An accident ends her career. With it, life as she has ever known it ends. She is cast adrift, no longer the star or the center of attention. "I learned that the world was made from men - for me - that men controlled the world, and further - that their desire for my attention was the only leverage I possessed." A chance meeting and a series of events lead her to marry Prince Ferdinand Fieschi of Lucomo, her literal prince charming. "It isn't until you feel safe that you realize how difficult  it was before, when you were constantly afraid, as though you have been hearing a noise in the background for so long that you cannot pick it out until someone turns it off. And when you hear the sound of silence, it's sweeter than you knew anything could be."

Sadly, Caroline discovers that her happily-ever-after is not quite so happy for her even in an amazingly beautiful setting in the lap of luxury as a literal princess. "The force of such beauty is meant to destabilize a person. I was no exception." The book description captures that and the book begins with the fact that Caroline tries to run away. This is not the first time. Perhaps, not the last either. The parallels of some of the details of Caroline's story to those of the lives of real princesses is obvious and clear. This book presents the picture that tarnishes the image of the charmed life of a princess. It brings out the rules, the requirements, and the constraints of royal life. It paints a very sad picture. 

The aspect of the book that is perhaps even more fascinating for being unexpected is the view on South African history and politics. Caroline Muller is a runner and from South Africa. "Running was the only sport that could not be segregated by the government, could not be kept down by oppression, could not be bought out from under the feet of my peers. They could not, you see - they could not segregate the roads. Not during the day, anyway." Caroline and her friend and fellow runner Zola have very different experiences as runner and go on to lead very different lives. They stay connected in some way throughout this book, and, time and again, the realities of and changes in South Africa become a fascinating part of the story of the European princess.

A memorable story. Given recent news and requests for privacy, this book takes on a whole new meaning and relevance..

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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