Belle
by Melanie Jackson, historical (2002)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4975-9


I really wanted so dearly to love Belle. But the thing is, for the most part Belle bewilders me. The hero Stephen Kirton puzzles me. Sometimes Belle's actions and motivations befuddle me. It is as if the author first creates some key scenes in this story, and then only to set out a story around these scenes.

Belle meets Stephen at a party where the guests are rather fast and loose. Belle is abandoned by her hubby-to-be whom she caught with his salami stuck in the wrong freezer, while Stephen has just been dumped by his wife-to-be for being a bastard, a tradesman, and a part-time social activist all at one go. He is at first taken with her, but after chit-chatting with her, he adjusts his plans of seduction into one of matrimony. (Gee, guess he really respects the way she thinks!) After all, he wants money, she has money. She wants a husband, he can be one, and he will eventually come into some title or the other, so her father will be happy. Plus, they kind of like each other. Right?

No, Belle exclaims. She is ruined already, so how can she ruin him by marrying him! (I'm still trying to figure that out.) Besides, she doesn't want to marry him because she is now jaded and cynical about men and marriage. Doesn't he want to seduce her only in the first place? Men!

Still, Stephen in insistent. And she will not be able to resist him for long, right?

At first I like Belle and Stephen. Two people who talk to each other, analyze their choices, and discuss it freely. Wow, big misunderstandings never have a chance, I thought. But who needs big misunderstandings when Belle and Stephen act like kooks half the time?

Stephen needs a life. He is supposed to have an active lifestyle of trade, culture, and social activism according to the first chapter of the story, but throughout the entire story, he is preoccupied with marrying Belle that he excludes her opinions entirely. He's like the Bam Bam version of Bridget Jones.

Belle is very trigger happy with the guilt thing. The smallest, inconsequential things can cause her to blame herself and feel guilty over every frickin' thing. Again, she is a complete question mark where I am concerned. There are times when she seems like a real person, as opposed to Stephen, but not enough.

The plot also causes me to scratch my head. There are murderous innkeepers, kidnappings, nasty ex-boyfriends, experiments with drugs (don't try this at home, kiddies), and other jolly fun stuff that on the whole come together like a mess after a free-for-all kiddie's birthday party food fight.

So no, I have no idea what Belle is supposed to be. If Melanie Jackson is writing a story where there seems to be no grand plot or big picture, just things happening as they come around - sort of real life, I guess - well, good for her. I hope there are people who like this kind of thing, because for me, I'm the old-fashioned kind of reader. I like my stories building up towards a grand culmination, a finale, a climax, that sort of thing.

Rating: 64


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