The theme for this month’s TBR Challenge is Kicking it Old School (original publication date older than 10 years). I picked To Have and to Hold by Patricia Gaffney, which was originally published in 1995. It is the second book in the Wyckerley Trilogy. I knew this book was a bit controversial, but I bought it when it was on sale a long time ago and I never got around to reading it. I had previously read and enjoyed the first book in the series, To Love and to Cherish, so I thought it was likely I would like this book too. Boy, was I wrong.
I will be honest: I don’t think that I have ever read a book that has made me quite so angry. If I hadn’t been reading this for the challenge, I would not have finished it. To say that I hate this book is an understatement. I think that it is vile, and I wish I had bought a paper copy of the book instead of an ebook, so that I could burn it.
It was interesting reading this book after the #MeToo movement and all of the stories of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful men in the last year. I know that this book is controversial now, but I would be interested to know how it was received in 1995. I remember reading The Flame and the Flower, as a teenager in the 1970s, and having the rapey-ness of the plot not being an issue with me. When I tried to re-read that book as an adult a few years ago, I was horrified at it and my younger self. Times have changed, and so have I. I cannot see any romance in To Have and to Hold at all, and am in fact horrified that many people do see a romance here.
The hero, Sebastian, is a Viscount who meets the heroine, Rachel, when he is a magistrate and she comes before the court he is serving on after she is released from prison. She has served a 10 year sentence for murdering her husband, and the town is very suspicious of her. He basically takes her on as his housekeeper with the intention of sleeping with her.
Sebastian is quite mean to her, and when he does act on his sexual impulses, it is obvious that Rachel is an unwilling partner. At one point he says:
“Relax, Mrs. Wade,” he whispered. “Don’t make it a rape.”
Excuse me? If she is relaxed, that means he is not forcing her? Later, when he goes for seconds, we read:
In a clear voice she said, “Don’t do this to me.”
He looked up, eyes alert, interested. Paused for so long, she thought he would stop now, stop everything. “What difference does it make? We’ve done this before. What does it matter now?”
She is saying no, and he is ignoring it, and forcing her anyway. This is rape, but both he and the heroine deny it. In 1995 this may have been considered acceptable (although that thought also horrifies me), but reading this in 2018 makes me feel sick. For the first half of the book Sebastian treats Rachel in a truly horrible way, until halfway through the book he makes an abrupt change and deeply regrets his treatment of her. I did not buy the triggering incident that supposedly changed his ways, and I did not think he groveled or apologized to her enough to make up for his previous horrifying behavior. It is like the first and the second half of the book are two separate books, and I hated Sebastian. I honestly don’t think he could be redeemed for me, and I do not find him romance hero material. At one point in second half of the book he says:
“Rachel, I’ve never hurt a woman with sex in my life unless she wanted it, and even then —“
and I laughed out loud. All he did in the first half of the book was hurt her with sex! He raped her!
I truly am horrified by this book. Rachel buys in to his argument in the first half that she owes him sex for taking her in, even when she clearly does not want a sexual relationship with him, and tells him no. The power he has over her to keep a roof over her head makes her lie there and take it. I did not buy that this unequal power dynamic could ever result in a consensual, equal, loving relationship. This is not romance, this is abuse. The second half of the book was not enough to make up for the first half, and I do not understand how this was ever thought of positively. 89% of the reviews on Goodreads are positive, which I find mind blowing. I need to go read something really good now to get the bad taste of this book out of my brain.