Thursday, October 20, 2016

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

I love historical romance, specifically historical romance that takes place in Regency and Victorian times. I enjoy the language, the costume porn, the odd customs, the strange romance of it. But I would never, ever want to live there. We have a tendency to romanticize the past, and focus on the feel-goodsy aspects of it that make for good films and A+ school dioramas when the truth is, it's the past for a reason.

In UNMENTIONABLE, Oneill discusses all manner of R-rated factoids about the Victorian era that you most likely didn't learn in school. For example, did you know that those beautiful corsets crushed women's rib cages and moved their organs around (and also stank to high heaven)? Did you know that foundation was a heavy "enamel" made of lead? That soap contained arsenic? That strychnine and tapeworms were handy diet tools? That doctors had electric masturbation machines to treat women with hysteria? That underwear was crotchless?

I knew some of these facts because I read a lot of historical fiction, but others were new to me. And the tone they're delivered in is also very enjoyable. Oneill's writing style kind of reminds me of Gail Carriger's - affected, airy, light, and fun. It comes and goes at times, though, which can make the narrative seem off-balance. One moment, you're listening to the Mrs. Bennett from hell telling you gleefully why the heavy frippery of Victorian accoutrements made crotchless underwear a necessity for 19th century bathroom breaks, the next you're faced with a rather dry examination of food handling and hysteria. I can understand why the author might want to treat more serious subjects with more gravity, but it does leave the overall "mood" of the book feeling slightly off balance.

UNMENTIONABLE is a great book if you're interested at all in feminism, history, or Victoriana. I'm interested in all three, so it was a delight to receive this book from Netgalley for review. I enjoyed every chapter and learned a lot of interesting and disturbing facts that will make me look at my favorite romances differently (or perhaps not so differently in the case of my bodice rippers). I sincerely look forward to this author's future projects! Maybe 18th century France?

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars!

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