Monday, November 3, 2014

The Sharp Hook of Love: A Novel of Heloise and Abelard by Sherry Jones

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 23, 2014

Among the young women of 12th century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God. But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. His controversial reputation only adds to his allure, yet despite the legions of women swooning over his poetry and dashing looks, he is captivated by the brilliant Heloise alone. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition. Sherry Jones weaves the lovers’ own words into an evocative account of desire and sacrifice. As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.

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Sherry Jones' The Sharp Hook of Love needs no introduction. Seriously folks, this book is all over the net and I'm not sure that's a good thing. Overexposure nearly caused me to burn out before I'd started the first page and though Gallery Books kindly provided me an advanced edition for review, I'd seen so much of the piece that I honestly considered declining to offer commentary altogether. The exceedingly aggressive promotional campaign launched over social media left such a bad taste in my mouth that I allowed the book to languish on my shelf for weeks before reluctantly tackling the narrative and even then, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about my prospects.

In the end, I didn't have to fight to finish and that's always a good sign, but if I'm honest, I'm no more excited now than I was before I cracked open the book. On one hand, I enjoyed discovering the subject matter. On the other, I felt the execution lacking in several places and wish the underlying themes had been more clearly developed and defined over the course of the story. 

Atmospherically, I had hoped The Sharp Hook of Love would open a window to twelfth century France, a means by which to visualize the hustle and bustle of her streets and appreciate the rhythms that characterized life in her cities, but that desire went unfulfilled. Don't misunderstand, Jones can be quite eloquent in her descriptions, she simply spends more time going on about Abelard's devouring mouth and probing fingers than she does the world her characters inhabit. 

In writing solely from Heloise's perspective, Jones left Abelard's motivations up to interpretation and I think that decision really undermined her efforts to develop him as a romantic hero and hindered the authenticity of the feelings he bore his lady. It is abundantly clear that Heloise is blinded by love for her roguish theologian, but there is such ambiguity in her partner's character and aspirations that I couldn't give credit to the romance the two were supposed to have shared.

I had similar difficulty understanding Heloise. Jones repeatedly states her heroine is renowned for her academic achievements, but the reader is so rarely afforded insight to that facet of her character that I found the claim difficult to accept. For chapters at a time, she thinks of Abelard with a single-mindedness that speaks more to naive infatuation than intended sacrifice, a fact which made in hard to believe she was capable of dedicated study or rational decisioning.

Bottom line, I think The Sharp Hook of Love could be a stronger piece, but I'm not unhappy with the time I spent reading it. Jones exposed me to a new chapter of history and despite my lukewarm assessment of the story, I was impressed with her tone and look forward to reading her again in the future. 

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My heart’s beat faltered. His broad smile beckoned; his bold gaze dared me to refuse. Something shifted inside me, like the turning of a key in a lock. For a moment, I forgot everything I had ever known: the books I had read, the secrets I kept, my destiny that no one could alter. I would be no one’s prize. Yet his smile shone like light across my face, pulling up the corners of my mouth, softening my eyes.
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