Adventures in Reading

The Heroines by Eileen Favorite
December 9, 2007, 10:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
“Alas, if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?” – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

When I stumbled onto this book last week I could not resist reading it. Eileen Favorite’s The Heroines is about a mother, Anne-Marie, and daughter, Penny, running a bed and breakfast, and famous literary heroines show up during some of their most stressful novelized experiences [1]. All of this is punctuated with glimpses of the televised Watergate trial.

The story is cute (and hokey) with a smattering of literary criticism, and I greatly enjoyed the premise of the novel. I mean, as fantastical of an idea as it is I am sure any fan of literature has at least one character they would love to get Chinese take out with. The first quarter of the novel amusingly details the mother and daughter tension of the household and gives the reader a glimpse of Franny (from Franny and Zooey) and Emma (from Madame Bovary).

However, Favorite inserted other themes and plots into the book that read more as gashes and interrupt the flow of an otherwise relaxing read. That is, Favorite begins to become very heavy handed about half way through the novel. Penny is abducted by a Hero, and after being found is taken to a hospital where she undergoes a rape test and is checked into the mental unit. (Granted, I suppose if you told a doctor you were abducted by a Celtic king similar things could happen to you.)

This portion of the story seemed a bit daft and I wonder what (if any) editorial conversation occurred. It reads as a mediocre scene of Girl, Interrupted (though with younger girls). Here Favorite seems to be playing up an idea of the psychological treatment of girls/women in this period with the wonder drug Valium. All well and good, and perhaps if Favorite had woven in more psychological tension for the reader – for example, questioning the reader whether or not the heroines are really exist – this could have progressed somewhere worthwhile.

It does not though. It dead ends and from here to the end of the book everything ends randomly and conveniently. I found this most irritating. Favorite had a great idea, but it just is not enough to carry excess themes.

I was also frustrated that only two of the heroines were from female authors. Favorite focuses on Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and a pre-christian Celtic tale “Deidre of the Sorrows” particularly as she is concluding the stories. (I will not lie – I kept hoping Austen would rear her head at some point!) Three stories written by men that conclude in the suicide of the heroine.

All I could think of was Claudia Johnson’s criticism on Austen, and how Austen did not kill off the scorned lover Margaret Dashwood as was/is so common in literature. I recall that Johnson describes it as a “pornographic death” where the heroine is killed under the mentality that if the hero cannot have her then no one will. Granted, Anna’s story is a bit different but this was the first thought in my head.

The book still has some cute and hokey moments. If the premise of the book seems thrilling I reservedly suggest you pick it up for some light reading on a cold winter’s afternoon. Honestly though, I found it a rather sloppy narrative and I could have read the book jacket and finished reading Austen’s Emma instead.

[1] There is a movie/book/short story/play/poem about a man who uses a black box to be transported to (and to transport) Emma Bovary to have an affair with her. Eventually the box breaks and I think he’s stuck with Emma in his world. For the life of me I cannot remember what it is though! This will annoy me until I find out.


I thought the book was like being in a fun dream that you didn’t want to wake up from. Ms. Favorite is a talented creative writer that is going to be very successful. I loved the book on so many levels and I know that most other readers will too!

Comment by Ann Wright

I admit I never attached or noticed any dream like qualities to the book. Fantastical and whimsical – yes, and I certainly appreciated that aspect of the novel. However, I still felt Favorite attempted to push additional plot lines that ultimately made the story drag. I did not enjoy it and it is certainly not a novel I am comfortable recommending.

Comment by bookchronicle

I very much enjoyed the book, especially when I “got it”. I must admit, I may be off base, but I saw this novel as a complex study of a woman with mutiple personalities. The mother & 13 year old daughter being the 2 main personalities that were able to see the “heroines” which were additional personalities that come & go. Most of the characters throughout the book were a personality that each played an important role in keeping the main character from sucumbing to madness. Mother was the care taker of the mind, Gretta the housekeeper was the strong one to take care of any problems. When Penny was committed to the mental ward, she created another character/personality to help her cope with the new surroundings- Florence the nurse, who was kind and kept an eye on her.
I loved the authors use of the Heroine’s state of mind being determined by what section of the novel the heroine hails from. It allowed the author to explore the many moods of the character- from happy to sad to depressed to confused, etc.
This is the most unique book I’ve ever experienced. I still have ongoing thoughts about the characters and where Favorite led me- down one path where I think I understand a personality, and then abrupt changes to make me rethink what I thought I figured out.
I definitely need to reread the book to see if my theories are correct, and if I am correct, I think the book cover should hint that this novel deals deeply into the mental health issue of multi personalities.
I also think this book screams for a sequel- expand on the main characters “therapy’ session or Penny’s detailed farewell to her “heroines”

Comment by Mike Andy

Mike Andy:

This is the most unique book I’ve ever experienced.

You do not read much – do you Mike? The multiple personality interpretation is interesting, but I am not sure it holds much water. The mother, the daughter, the maid, and various other people could all see the heroines. A memorable example of this is the scene with the mother’s parents and Wuthering Heights’ heroine. Unless you are suggesting that the narration reflects this personality and then… then I am assuming you believe the narration is entire unbelievable and the book is psycho babble ranting? And if that is so, the book is even worse than I thought it was.

However, I do not think I did not get the novel. As soon as the Girl, Interrupted-esque references appeared it became quite obvious that Favorite had intended a much more serious novel than she delivered. It would have been a terrific fluff novel (with some fun intellectual references similar to Meg Cabot) but instead it became heavy and uninteresting.

Comment by bookchronicle

I think you had your say in your article and your annoying habit of posting counter points to every one else’s positive thoughts on the book is making you look a little bitter and cynical. Maybe once you get published (off of the web) you will be a bit more forgiving.

Comment by Paul Blickenstaff

Paul Blickenstaff: Perhaps you missed this but it’s my blog, and points and counterpoints are the fundamentals of dialog. And as discussing literature and books is kind of my thing… I’ll assume you see where I’m going.

I also have various articles, essays, short pieces of fiction, and poems to my name that have been published in various venues ranging from the local library to academia. It’s all received it’s fair share of criticism and I like to think that I accepted said criticism with some degree of grace and either rejected it or learned from it.

I must comment that I find it interesting that nearly a year after this post I still find comments left on this post that make attempts at personal insults. It’s also rather humorous because the actual review doesn’t particularly crucify the book.

Comment by bookchronicle

I am glad I am not the only one who had a tough time with this story. it could have been way better if she could have stuck with the original idea of the book. Heck, she could have made this A LOT longer and got all of Penny’s story in and the heroines!

Comment by Jeanette

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: