Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Princess of Nowhere by Lorenzo Borghese — 336 pgs

The Princess of Nowhere: A NovelWhen Prince Camillo Borghese meets Napoleon's sister Pauline, he is at once mesmerized and intrigued, but although he is considering marriage, Pauline is not the woman he would choose. After hearing rumors of her scandalous behavior, Camillo decides against Pauline, but when he one day spies her unaware, he realizes that she is a beautiful woman that he could one day love and decides to marry her and make her a princess. Pauline brings to the marriage one young son named Dermide and a young girl named Sophie who has been placed in Pauline’s care by her brother Napoleon. As Camillo and Pauline begin their marriage, things are almost immediately rocky between them, for Pauline doesn’t wish to conduct herself in a ladylike manner and begins having affairs with several other suitors, a fact she doesn’t hide from her husband. Aside from this, Pauline also spends extravagantly and often neglects her son and her charge, spending countless hours doing what pleases her. All these things lead Camillo into a dance of betrayal and forgiveness that spans several years of their marriage. Sophie also is having difficulty with Pauline, for although she idolizes and loves her, Pauline neglects her and uses her as a pawn in her power struggles with Camillo. In this historical fiction debut, readers come face to face with the manipulative and selfish Pauline Borghese, a princess who only looks out for herself, no matter what the consequences are.

Though I’ve read a little about Napoleon and knew he had siblings, I didn’t have the faintest clue about what their lives were like or what kind of people they were. When I picked up this book, I hadn’t even read the jacket copy, so it was all a very big surprise to me. This isn’t your typical historical fiction read for a lot of reasons that I’ll go into, but mainly because it centered more around character development than any historical event or period. As the author explains in the afterword, his motivation for writing this book was to chronicle the life story of one of his most famous and maligned ancestors. While I think he succeeded with the story of the ever ostentatious Pauline, the book left a little to be desired in its scope and execution.

Pauline was not a very likable person, in my opinion. She was extremely vain and manipulative, and so much of a vixen that she would coax any available man into compromising situations in order to frustrate and enrage her husband. It was frustrating to me to read about this, so I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for Camillo to live with it. Camillo was a loving and attentive man, wishing to give Pauline happiness and pleasure, but Pauline never recognized his efforts and repeatedly chose to stray from him and then to defend her right to do so. She made a cuckold of her husband very early on in the marriage and continued to do so, even though it embarrassed herself and her brother Napoleon. Though at times she tries to behave, it never seems convenient enough for her to do so for very long, and soon she reverts back to past sins and indiscretions. As the story progresses, Camillo and Pauline engage in a back and forth see-saw of attraction and repulsion.

The relationship between Pauline and Camillo was sad to watch, but I felt more sorrow at the relationship between Pauline and Sophie. Sophie loved Pauline and was continually debased and taken advantage of because she left her heart open to her guardian. Though she would do anything for the princess, Pauline cruelly uses her and subverts the love she has for her. At times Pauline is unimaginably cruel to her charge and puts her very life in danger to satisfy her whims, and though she tries to be a mentor to the young girl at times, she only succeeds in being vulgar and inappropriate when attempting to teach the young girl the ways of love. Like her relationships with the other people in her life, Pauline can be cruel and vindictive to Sophie, and when her mind fastens on a goal, she thinks nothing of putting the young girl in harm’s way. Through it all, Sophie stays loyal and true to Pauline and, in the end, even Camillo finds a way to forgive her for her transgressions, which made me a little mad to tell you the truth.

One of the things that I found very surprising was that it was filled with graphic sex scenes. Now, I am no prude, but these scenes just seemed a little out of place in a historical fiction novel, and thinking back on it, I’m quite sure this is the only historical fiction novel I’ve read that utilizes this concept. I also got a little bored with Pauline’s excessive and poor behavior and wanted the story to focus more on the events that were happening in the world during that particular time, instead of on the bad behavior of Pauline. In the conclusion of the book, Pauline is forced to make her apologies to everyone around her, and comes to regret the way that she acted in the past. Though these sections were believable, they came a little too late for me and I couldn’t forgive the princess as easily as those in her life did. I’m almost certain the ending of the book was meant to elicit a few tears from its audience, but I remained staunchly dry-eyed because these sections felt a tiny bit contrived and orchestrated.

My feelings on this book are a bit muddied. Though princess Pauline was indeed a retched character whom I grew very tired of reading about, there was also a sort of train-wreck quality to her life that I couldn’t seem to look away from, and it was interesting to see how those around her dealt with the messes that she so expertly created. This isn’t historical fiction at its best, and that is mainly because it’s so tightly focused on people instead of events, but it is a book that might just give you a character that you will love to hate. I think readers who are looking for something that is well rounded and more historically involved would be disappointed with this book, but those who love troubled characters could possibly fall right into Pauline Borghese’s life and find it riveting. A mixed bag of a book.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

17 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm definitely not a fan of graphic sex scenes, especially in a historical fiction setting. It sounds like a gratuitous way to sell books!

TheBookGirl said...

One of the reasons that I read historical fiction is that I like learning while I read; from your description, it seems like the history takes a back seat here, so this would not be the book for me. As if that weren't enough, I'm no fan of overly graphic sex scenes.
Thanks for the heads up on this one :)

Amy said...

Huh. This sounds like an interesting book because I know nothing about Pauline and that might be fun to read about. But. Yeah, I think I'll avoid this one. She sounds very frustrating and the graphic sex scenes would be a bit much for me!

Audra said...

I've sort of snobbishly ignored this book as the author is a contestant from The Bachelor (and is also a prince!). And I've had bad luck recently with books inspired by authors' own families!

bermudaonion said...

I have discovered that I'm not a fan of historical fiction set during that time period and I'm not really a fan of graphic sex scenes, so this book probably isn't for me.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm curious about the motives of the author. As a distant relative of this woman, what did he hope to gain by telling us this story? I'd be a tad embarrassed to have her in my family tree.

Suko said...

I'm not sure I'd enjoy this book, especially because of the graphic sex scenes. Excellent and thoughtful review, Zibilee.

Marie said...

interesting. probably not one for me but your review is intriguing! sometimes train wrecks make for good entertainment.

Darlene said...

I'm not a fan of graphic sex scenes either especially in historical fiction. As well, one of the reasons I read it is to read about the era, not just putting the focus on a character. Too bad this wasn't a better read for you Heather.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

This looks interesting even if it's a bit flawed. I've been a bit worn out on the historical fiction.

Trisha said...

Pauline sounds like the type of character I would dislike to the point it would ruin my experience with the novel!

softdrink said...

The fact that the graphic sex scenes involve the author's ancestors kind of ups the eww factor.

Geosi said...

I doubt if I would go in for this but this is an Author I have not heard before and that would in a way interest me to go for this.

Vasilly said...

The train-wrecked quality of life sounds interesting but I don't think it's going to be enough to get me to pick this book up. Your review was excellent!

Jenners said...

People with train wreck lives are interesting to read about ... you just don't want to live with them (like poor Sophie). If the author was trying to "clear" his family name by trashing Pauline, it seems like he accomplished his goal, I guess.

Aarti said...

I think I'll be skipping this one. Doesn't sound like one I'd be very interested in at all, even though I love the Napoleonic era!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the review. Although i normally don't post comments on blogs pertaining to my book i decided to do so on this one:) I just wanted to clear up two things: 1.) The sex scenes, although i was uncomfortable writing them, were absolutely necessary because Pauline was known as one of the most sexual people of her time. This is how she obtained power over the many men in her life. It is and was important to who she was. 2.) Regarding the ending of the book, it is all true. Although Camillo did not want to take Pauline back, the Pope forced him to. They spent roughly 8 months together before her death and at that time, they fell deeply in love. This is all recorded history. In fact, he was by her side when she died and he was the one to close her eyes. I would have found it very difficult to forgive her but perhaps Camillo is a better man than me. Thank you again for all your comments. Lorenzo

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