I did a lot of good word-reading this week, so this was a tough choice! After a million twitter recommendations I finally read, and greatly enjoyed, Aster Glenn Gray’s Briarley, a novella-length WWII-era m/m Beauty and the Beast retelling.
I particularly liked how this book dealt with depictions of time passing. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog (prompted by discussions in Romancelandia) I’m eventually planning a longer post on how romance novels convey the passage of large periods of time at the sentence level. And Briarley is a great place to start thinking through this.
This story takes place on a grand estate that has been frozen in time by an evil curse. Briarley is up against a pretty significant challenge: make readers feel the weight of 100 years in stasis, with only the length of a novella to do so. And it accomplishes this task through some rather beautiful writing.
I picked two lines from the book, which succinctly convey two different kinds of time passing. The first is from the beginning of the book, where a young woman named Rose is waiting for the return of her father, the parson, not realizing he’s found his way into the lair of the Beast (in this case, a dragon in an enchanted castle).
“But then the rain stopped, and he did not come. Rose read on, and he did not come; and she finished another chapter, and he did not come; and then she found herself sitting with the book closed over her thumb, gazing fixedly toward the fire, although she was not seeing it.”Aster Glenn Grey, Briarley, 2018
The repetitions here convey both the monotony and the worry of her waiting- the monotony of the minutes that pass are marked by the mundane act of reading, while the larger worries of tragedy befalling a loved one are conveyed in the greater force of the weather.
The second passage takes place after the parson has been on the estate a while, and is beginning to care for the dragon. Here, we can see the subtle shift between the negative associations with a curse that has frozen time, and positive associations with the familiarity of routine related to home, and comfort, and love.
“Time passed. The parson now went up to the dragon’s lair every day, to gaze out the windows at the changing trees beyond the walls. Brown and red leaves had utterly replaced green, and in turn were falling to reveal bare black branches. All Hallow’s Eve was on its way. Yet a kind of peace reigned within the estate. The roses bloomed, and the dinner arrived everlastingly the same each night, and it seemed impossible to believe that anything would ever change.”Aster Glenn Grey, Briarley, 2018
If you’re intrigued by any of this, I highly recommend buying Briarley here. If you’ve already read it, and want to dive further into this book’s gorgeous writing, Fiona West has a neat post about a different passage on her blog here.
Happy Friday, and happy reading!