The Tale of Triona

July 29, 2011

So, there’s this girl named Olivia Gale. Her mother married beneath her, her father and two older brothers died in World War I, and now her mother’s died too, so Olivia lets the house to Blaise Olifant, a scientist who lost an arm in the war and wants a quiet place to work, and moves to London. There she meets up with her old friend Lydia, who owns a fashionable millinery. Lydia introduces Olivia to her glamorous friends, and for a while Olivia has fun running around with them and dancing all night and doing whatever else idle young people with disposable incomes do in the aftermath of World War I. But Olivia is our heroine, so she eventually gets fed up with being shallow, and it’s around that time that Olifant comes to London for a visit and introduces her to his friend Alexis Triona.

Triona is a bit famous, because he’s written a book about his experiences working as an agent in the Russian secret service during the war, and it is both popular and critically acclaimed. And he’s kind of a genius, but he’s also boyish and unaffected and — soon — completely smitten with Olivia. So they get married, and for a while they’re cloyingly happy, and then Olivia discovers that Alexis has been lying to her and everyone else about some pretty big things. And the one big lie is almost understandable, but all the little ones he piled on top of it kind of concerned me. I don’t know whether he’s a pathological liar or he just likes making things up, but neither option is good.

Anyway, whatever else he is, he’s probably the biggest drama queen I’ve ever encountered in fiction. When Olivia finds him out, he a) leaves her a note about how he’s going to cut himself out of her life, b) sneaks out of the house while she’s taking a walk to clear her head, c) rushes off to see Olifant, who he treats to a dramatic retelling of his life’s story, complete with hand gestures, and d) decides to run off and join the Polish army. But before he can heroically give his life for the only country that currently seems to offer any opportunity for heroic life-giving, he gets hit by a truck.

While convalescing, Alexis ponders what he’s going to do with his life. He’s lame now, so he can’t go adventuring, and if he tries to write for a living, he won’t be able to stop his genius from shining through and revealing his identity. He really, really needs to get over himself And he sort of does, I guess. He becomes more appealing, and Olivia becomes less so, and then they’re ready to meet again, he having proved once again that he’s good at everything — except, presumably, honesty — and she humble and contrite, which only makes slightly more sense in context. I can’t decide whether I was reconciled to them getting back together because I didn’t think Olivia was too good for Alexis anymore, or if I’d just gotten over most of my frustration with Alexis. Probably a bit of both.

It’s pretty much as ridiculous as it sounds, and yet I really liked The Tale of Triona. Olivia, at least at the beginning, was lovely, and if there was kind of a lot of moralizing, and an unnecessary amount of anti-communism, there was also no shortage of incident. This isn’t one of those books where the hero and heroine moon at each other for four hundred pages, although I can’t deny that there’s a fair amount of mooning. Mooning plus action is probably a pretty good formula for a fun book.

I’ve posted all I can find of the illustrations from when the novel was serialized in Good Housekeeping on Tumblr: here and here.


  1. I’d love a copy of the illustration of the two trees: what issue of Good Housekeeping is it in?

    • Here!

      • Ooh! Thanks for that link–I found a Frances Hodgson Burnett I had overlooked!

        • I saw that, but didn’t stop to read. Let me know how it is!

  2. Dare I say it reminds me of Casey Anthony?

    • Just because of all of the lying, or for some other reason?

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