Why I read it: I heard about this book on a DBSA Podcast so I bought it. I didn’t share the view of the two Smart Bitches who read and loved it. I can’t tell how much of that exactly was due to the audio format but I think if I’d read the book it still would not have been a resounding success, even though I’m sure I’d have liked it better. As it was, it was just okay for me.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Miss Prudence Merryweather Payton has a secret.
Everyone knows that she’s the only graduate from her finishing school to remain unwed on her fourth season—but no one knows why. With her romantic illusions shattered after being compromised against her will, Prudence accepts a proposal even though her betrothed is not exactly a knight in shining armor. When he cowardly pushes her out of their stagecoach to divert a highwayman, she vows never to trust another man again.
John Roark, Viscount Castleton, is nobody’s hero.
He’s a blue-eyed charmer with a mysterious past and ambitious plans for his future—that do not include a wife. When he finds himself stranded at a country inn with a captivating young woman, a delicate dance of seduction ensues. He knows he should keep his distance. And he definitely shouldn’t start falling in love with her.
When Prudence’s dark past comes back to haunt her, John must protect her—even though he risks revealing his own secrets that could destroy his future.
Trigger Warning: Sexual assault
What worked for me (and what didn’t): There’s a thing that happens sometimes when a book is “translated” into the audio format. There are things which don’t work as well aurally as they do visually. What A Wallflower Wants is a perfect example of when something doesn’t translate well to audio. It has a somewhat unusual structure. At the end of some chapters (but not all, let’s not worry about consistency) there is a section which I’ve seen (because a friend screen-capped a couple of pages and tweeted them to me) is in italics. It has a section break before it and it is clearly out of phase with the rest of the story. Even so, there is no time/date stamp above it. It is apparent that these events take place a few days into the future – eventually the book catches up with itself. They are always in John’s POV. This is made even more odd because when Prudence has a flashback they are always marked with a date/time to orient the listener (for example, “Four years ago”). It is only these odd little sections from the future which aren’t so marked. On audio they come out of the blue. There is no aural representation that we are moving into the future and that the section is not in phase with the rest of the story. It took me a while to work out what was going on. At first I thought it was a flashback but that didn’t make sense the more I listened. Eventually I asked on Twitter and my guess was confirmed. When I’m listening, I have only my ears to orient me to the physics of the story. I can’t easily skip around sections like I can in a paperback or a digital file and I can’t see the visual cues on the page. I can’t see the italics. This story flips about quite a bit – in fact, there was one part where I’d accidentally left my iPod running and I missed a couple of chapters and when I started listening again I didn’t immediately realise my mistake – I thought it was just the book messing with me again. (I did realise after a while and went back and listened to the bits I’d missed).
In terms of the audiobook, that was a thing which made me frustrated and I found it difficult to settle into the listen because things kept moving around.
In terms of the story, well, there were things I liked – the friendship between the three friends, the truth about John, and Prue’s reaction to it (not her immediate reaction) and what the story had to say about class. I did think the romance was too fast. John and Prue are stranded together at an Inn in a storm and spend a few days getting to know one another. But they don’t spend entire days together. In fact, there are vast swathes of time when they’re not together at all. There are days when their interaction is extremely brief. I could more readily accept a fast romance if they had spent the entire time together but they really didn’t. I found myself doubting John when he professed his love – he barely knew this woman. And Prue barely knew him.
The book deals with sexual assault. Some of it troubled me. For much of the story, Prue has told no-one she was raped. So the only voice of opinion possible is her own. I don’t think it’s too spoilerish to say that later she tells John and later still she confesses to her friends. Consistently throughout the book, rape is presented as “the worst thing”, “worse than death”, “the very worst thing that can happen”. While of course rape is terrible, I struggled with the notion that it was the very worst thing ever. I didn’t have much trouble coming up with worse things. The first one which sprang to mind was being forced to marry her rapist and then him legally raping her whenever he pleased, on through the years. I don’t hold with the idea of ranking trauma or pain. There are some things which are objectively not as bad as something else – for example, a paper cut is objectively, by anyone’s measure, better than being run over by a truck. But there is a level beyond which things are just all awful and trying to rank them is unfair. My thoughts generally are that there is pretty much always someone worse off that you and someone better off than you. Those things may help to put matters into perspective (or they may not) but they in no way devalue your own experience. That is to say, just because someone has something you consider “worse” happen to them, does not mean that your own experience is rendered meaningless and without value. So with all that in mind, I wondered how someone who had been sexually assaulted would feel about rape being consistently characterised as “the very worst thing that could happen”. I wonder if that is a helpful characterisation for someone who has been sexually assaulted. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I admit the characterisation troubled me. Perhaps I overthought. I realise that because of the fact that Prue told no-one for a very long time that the narrative was very much stuck with her own opinion as the sole voice for much of the book. But John agreed with it. And I didn’t hear Prue’s friends saying otherwise. Rape is bad, awful, horrible. Of course it is. Why is it necessary to “rank” it in some kind or hierarchy at all? It’s not like anyone gets to choose their trauma in a true-to-life game of “would you rather”. /soapbox
Ultimately the book has a quite modern sensibility about what makes a man valuable and how much (if any) of it has to do with the circumstances of one’s birth. I did like the way Prue came to realise the strictures of the ton were mainly serving the few and largely, the male few.
What else? The narrator was fairly good. I’d have liked her male characters to have been more starkly defined. As it was, they were mainly merely more stern in speech rather than having a different timbre. I thought the emotion of the book was deftly portrayed and the accents were well done.
What A Wallflower Wants was okay for me, not great, but not a waste of my time and money either. I think I’d have done better in print, though not through any fault of the narrator.
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