The Green GoddessMarch 8, 2017
Okay, so, look. This review at Google Books says all that’s really necessary about Louise Jordan Miln’s The Green Goddess. The book is pretty disastrous. The review makes me feel like I don’t need to write one. But sometimes when I really hate a book, I write a lot about it while I’m still in the middle of it. And I’m still angry enough at this one to want to be kind of mean about it. So, you don’t need a review, but you’re getting one.
Lucilla Crespin is the daughter of an English vicar. He seems cool, and we spend two chapters with him before Lucilla marries Captain Antony Crespin and leaves for India. Lucilla and her father never see each other again, and I’d say those first chapters were wasted except that they’re substantially less miserable than the rest of the book.
I got through five or six chapters—Lucilla’s dad, her marriage, her journey to India, the state of things in her husbands regiment—and realized that it was all exposition. The story hadn’t started yet. And then the exposition kept going: Lucilla Crespin’s reaction to India, and her children, and Captain Crespin’s old friend Dr. Traherne, and Traherne’s airplane and his friendship with Lucilla, and their Corporal’s general character and daughter and fondness for Lucilla, and Captain Crespin’s alcoholism, and his mom who was also an alcoholic and his dad who wasn’t cool, and his disgrace and his womanizing and how the doctor tries to help him get sober and all of a sudden I’m twelve chapters in and the author is telling me about an isolated Indian kingdom that has nothing to do with anything that’s gone before and I’m wondering whether the entire first quarter of the book is basically a prologue.
Spoiler: it is.
After I learned that The Green Goddess was adapted from a play, I assumed that these weird structural issues were an artifact of the adaptation. I figured that the more fleshed-out bits of the early chapters—Lucilla’s last days with her father, her arrival in India, maybe some stuff about Crespin’s alcoholism and Traherne’s aeronautical hobby—were from the play, and Miln did a poor job of filling the spaces between them. But no, the play begins with Traherne and the Crespins arriving in the Kingdom of Rukh, and I don’t really understand why the novel couldn’t have begun there too.
Anyway, they’re there, and they’re being held captive, and the Raja of Rukh is planning on killing them all for fairly inadequate reasons—except Lucilla, if she’ll become one of his many wives. I’d also like to note that this is, from the first, the thing Crespin and Traherne are most concerned about: the sexual threat to Lucilla. There’s no grossness like the grossness of the men plotting to kill the woman before she’s raped by a guy with brown skin, first because their horror seems more connected to the brown skin than to the rape, and second because the idea that death is preferable to rape is directly connected to the idea that a woman’s only value is her “virtue.”
There’s one pretty good subplot in which Crespin, a wireless expert, has to hide his knowledge and then use it to send out a distress signal, but also that’s practically the only thing that happens at all. The rest of it is philosophizing, and flowery (and occasionally gruesome) description, and Lucilla agonizing over which is more important, her life or her virtue.
That last struggle becomes even more difficult after the Raja offers to bring Lucilla’s children to Rukh if she’ll consent to live with him. And while I don’t particularly like that she consistently sees death as the only real option, that’s pretty consistent with who she is as a character. However, I lost any remaining patience with one of the men when he decides, shortly before they’re supposed to be put to death, that the question is still open and that he needs to decide what’s the right thing for her to do. Like, decide away, fuckface, but keep it to yourself.
Anyway, this book is very bad. All four of the main characters have their moments, but I was a little bit disappointed when the Raja didn’t get to go through with sacrificing his prisoners to his six-armed green goddess.