It has been mine now two months; yet this name confounds me still. Giuseppina. Giuseppina Guillaume. My tongue stumbles over its unfamiliar sounds; my hand, as I sign, hesitates, threatens to trace instead the pattern of my other name, my other self. My husband calls me two, three times before I respond; my ear, accustomed to the harsh staccato of my given name, catches not the languid softness of this new one. Guiseppina.
I, who know the weight of words, who measure sound and syllable, chose this name—he granted me that liberty, at least, though at the time the choice seemed but a lovers' game, inconsequential. I never guessed how the very sound of the word would capture the contours of my life. Guiseppina: the soft, suggestive whisper of the first two syllables explodes in a crescendo that fades quickly to a sigh. A fitting emblem of the woman I have become. Guiseppina. I choke on the irony.
Now he approaches, my husband, the man who allowed me this name. He takes my hand, caressing it as though petting a small creature's soft fur.
"Giuseppina," he whispers. From his lips, the sound is round and sweet, like a plum.
"Yes, my lord?"
"Do you mind if I call you Jo?"
Continuation: Nancy Conner
Be careful of foreign spellings. At the end of the first paragraph, the narrator starts spelling her own name wrong: it's Giu (to make the G soft), not Gui, which indicates a hard G, as in Guillaume. Rather an unfortunate effect in an opening that emphasizes her name so strongly.
Maybe if I'd taken French instead of Spanish I'd understand what the big deal about her new name is. I definitely like EE's version better.
I'd keep reading if I opened the book and saw EE's revised version. He's done a wonderful job of tightening up--pulling out everything that's intriguing about the original and highlighting it by trimming back the wordiness. The original is interesting but has too much language for its own sake.
I think this is a strong beginning. I'm intruigued by the situation--why has the narrator been given a new Christian name? I also like the glimpses of personality I see through her voice. But the wordiness of the unedited version, even in an historical novel, would trip me up as a reader. The second paragraph of the original loses me because, even though I understand the words, I have no idea what she's talking about. The revision highlights the narrator's bemusement over her new name; next, I'd expect an explanation of why that new name was necessary.
I enjoy well researched historicals, and I'd read this. You've created a voice that evokes a very different time and place--which, to me, is the essential element in drawing me into an historical novel. But beware getting so carried away with the language that you leave your readers behind. We do need things to move forward, even in works that are more literary in tone.
Oh yeah--I meant to say that one of the things I found intriguing was why, if the novel is set in France, the narrator has chosen an Italian name.
EE's is definitely catchier than the original. That second paragraph was waaaaaaaay too much. At the same time, the second paragraph lets you know what you're in for: lots of Style. I hate Style. I would have put this down as soon as I saw "catches not" instead of "doesn't catch." Overall this intro sounds like it cares more about style than plot, and that's really not something I have any interest in. However, some like it.
I'm really intrigued by this story and want to know more. If I read the edited version, I'd definitely be hooked. That second paragraph in the original version would probably scare me away though. If the whole book is going to be overwritten like that, I know I'd get tired of it quickly. A little bit sprinkled throughout wouldn't make me stop reading, just roll my eyes. But if one out of every three paragraphs reads that way, I wouldn't make it past the first chapter.
As someone who has also received the dread "overwritten" criticism, I'd just like to point out that some of us enjoy pretty prose. The English language is a glorious beast, and there are plenty of people who like to read stories that are as beautifully wrought as they are compelling.
I'd buy this.
Annie has left a new comment on your post "Giuseppina (Historical Fiction)":
anonymous said: The English language is a glorious beast, and there are plenty of people who like to read stories that are as beautifully wrought as they are compelling.
As someone who called this overwritten, I want to say that I totally agree.
I love books that are beautifully written. But I think there is a line between beautifully written and overwritten, and as submitted, this crossed the line for me.
I think the first and third paragraphs are lovely. The writing captured my attention as much as -- if not more than -- the content. And I even think a line or two from the middle paragraph could be salvaged. But altogether, that middle paragraph was just way too overdone to me. It came off sounding affected rather than genuine (the way the other two sound). The last line in particular made me roll my eyes.
The second paragraph, removed from the version in the post, reads as follows:
Not for me, the simple exchange of family names, father’s for husband’s. The name bestowed on me at baptism, the standard of my shriven soul, was token for this trade. In its place a worn and rustic pennant droops, its hem besmirched and spattered. The cost of anonymity, I have learned, exceeds the price of figured silk, surpasses that of satin. My clipped and countered coin will never settle the account.
After all that musing about her new name, the last line of the continuation TOTALLY cracked me up.
I do like the first part, though.
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