11 February 2009

Author Love: Paullina Simons

At first glance, Paullina Simons' books could be construed as chick-lit. Thick bricks of chick-lit. The new Harper Collins covers do her no favours either. RIDICULOUS.
But, open one and start to read.

And then give it 50 or so pages because the lady takes a while to warm up.

Born in the Soviet Union and emigrating to the U.S. when she was a small child, Simons incorporates all the tragedy, history and black-humour that we have come to associate with the great Russian sagas. I tell readers to prepare to have their heart wrenched out, several times. If the characters stumble... fall... seem unlikely to overcome their numerous and achingly sad trials, you as the reader will feel unable to go on with your own life. These novels are emotional testaments to the pain and suffering that humans endure in the name of love, honour and passion.

Simons relentlessly attacks her characters: both with interminably depressing plot lines and a no-holds barred attitude to uncovering every thought and feeling the character has ever entertained. Tully (in the novel of the same name) is hardly likeable, holding herself to a strict moral code that has nothing to do with treating people well and everything to do with ensuring her own life remains as miserable as possible. She is one of the greatest female characters to have been written in the last decade, obscenely alluring and entirely unforgettable. (Give Angelina Jolie a bad dye-job and she'd be perfect.)

Yet it is The Bronze Horseman which is Simons' greatest triumph. It is the story of Tatiana and Alexander, lovers who must survive the suffocation of Soviet Russia, the torture of the Viet Cong in Vietnam and all the temptations of simmering Arizona before we can begin to hope that happiness may lie in their destinies. I am normally reluctant to tell people The Bronze Horseman is the first in a trilogy. I feel they don't experience the full weight of emotion and despair if they know there is more of the story to come (i.e. hope of salvation). Having read the novel before the sequels were around I still recall the devastation I felt upon completion; and the sheer delight and exhilaration when I found out the author was putting the characters through two more books worth of hell.

This may all sound a bit over the top. Simons' prose is not brilliant or unique. But her emotional intelligence is astounding and it is impossible to read her work and not be swept away on a tide of longing, darkly tainted with despair. I don't feel enthusiasm like this that often (I am tensed with excitement, hunched over the keyboard), so this is genuine, I assure you.

We attended an event with Simons a couple of years ago. In front of hundreds of people I raised my hand.
(Cue gushing voice).
"Paullina, whenever I sell one of your books in the bookshop I get the most amazing feeling inside, like I'm passing on some sort of gospel. I want to thank you for emotionally enriching my life."
(Earhart sinks slowly to the floor next to me in morbid embarrassment).

I would like to point out my comment wasn't nearly as awful as the woman who told Paullina she couldn't get pregnant until she read The Bronze Horseman.
That was most amusing.

The Bronze Horseman: 10/10
(Steer clear of The Road to Paradise. Only hard-core fans would enjoy this. I wouldn't recommend Simons' books to anybody battling depression... I do not want to be responsible for any bridge-leaping).
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