Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bathory: Memoir of a Countess

Rather than doing my homework last night, I decided to curl up with a book and while the night away.  Very irresponsible!  I could have been writing my Gatsby paper, which is due tonight, or reading Euripides' Helen for Thursday's class, but I couldn't bring myself to do either, preferring instead to escape the chores ahead of me with A. Mordeaux's Bathory: Memoir of a Countess.  I read the entire thing, all 232 pages, in about four hours.

At this point, I'd like to preface my review by saying that ever since I discovered and ordered the book on Amazon, I've been eagerly awaiting its arrival.  When I got half of my shipment from Amazon early and this book wasn't in it, I was really disappointed, and when it finally did come, I could hardly contain my excitement.  I was able to put off reading it in favor of finishing Kushiel's Avatar, Sappho, and Gatsby, but only barely.  I've been looking for a good book about the Blood Countess and this one seemed like it might be just what I'd sought after, so I was eager to devour it.

I've never been so disappointed by a book in my entire life.

So, first from Amazon:
"The legend of Elizabeth Bathory has captivated generations, but her true persona eludes many. She has been called the most renowned serial killer of her time, accused of torturing and murdering more than 600 people. Conflicted, wanton, and sadistic in nature, was Elizabeth the result of generations of inbreeding? Was she a twisted byproduct of an archaic environment? Or was she merely a victim of a political conspiracy? Travel back in time and explore her story, told in her own voice, and discover the many facets of Countess Elizabeth Bathory."

This is the product description, not a review, but it helps to put things into perspective.  Elisabeth Bathory was a murderess of the highest caliber, believed to have bathed regularly in the blood of  both servant and aristocratic virgins to sustain her youth.  She wasn't just a killer, she was a sadistic torturer, as well.  This is not a sympathetic character, though she is a fascinating one.  So, if anything good could be said about this book, it's only that the story is interesting, but is a story not of the authors devising.  History gives us this character and her tale.
**Includes spoilers beyond this point**

I say then, without reserve, that this is the single worst book I've ever read.  I do mean that, the absolute worst.  Though the character is historical and her story is fascinating, the book is utter garbage.  The prose are stiff and at times difficult to follow, just a lot of sentences haphazardly forced together.  The story unfolds in jagged fits and spurts of time.  There is absolutely no continuity.  The historical details are poorly researched, the character is poorly rendered, and the ending is ridiculous.  Dialogue is both modern and unbelievable, and there is not a single moment when the characters are speaking that I didn't want them to just stop (the book is most certainly not written in "her voice" as the product detail suggests).  It was horribly, horribly distracting and stole away any credibility and suspension of disbelief this book could have had.

The character recognizes herself as depressed (the historically accurate term is melancholia), her husband calls her stressed, and she gets what they recognize as influenza (which didn't become a medical term for more than 100 years after this book is set).  If I had a dime for every time this book said castle, I would have made up the cost of the book. I actually laughed out loud at the term "castle management."  This is historical fiction and shouldn't sound like the characters are going to stay at a cheap motel.

In the midst of all of that, the book depicts in horrible, and horribly written, detail scenes of graphic torture and depraved sexuality.  I'm not one to be insulted by sex, nor am I such a prude that I can't accept torture in it's historical context (we are talking about Hungary in the fifteen- and sixteen-hundreds after all), but the book went over the line.  If the author wanted to write bad BDSM, they should have done so and left history out of it.  There is heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, child molestation and torture, rape, murder, mutilation and all manners of horrors.  Innocent bystanders are tortured and killed to no purpose, which doesn't fit with Elisabeth Bathory's profile.  I don't have a weak stomach for these things, but this book made me nauseous.

As if all that weren't enough, the book has so many loose threads, we could weave a cloak!  Characters are introduced and then disappear.  Children are had and the disappear until the author needs them later.  The only mention of her any of her children being married is that of Elisabeth's middle daughter, Katalin, though her other children are apparently wed as well.  Her son and one of her sons-in-law come to her aid, for no reason at all, while her other son-in-law is apparently, and for no apparent reason, conspiring against her.  Her cousin puts her under house arrest for 3 years, is cruel to her, won't even give her water to bathe with, and yet in the end, this same cousin simply lets her go with a bag of money and tells her to go somewhere and disappear, with no explanation of why.  A young woman is lead into her chambers as she leaves them, and we are left to assume that that woman will serve as a stand-in corpse for Elisabeth, because history says that Elisabeth dies under house arrest.

Though there are many gaps in the record of Elizabeth Bathory, some historical facts are known beyond question.  That she dies under house arrest is one of those fact and yet the author screws that up, too.  In the Author's notes, in the end of the book, Mordeaux attempts to explain away their poorly constructed story and admits to doing most of their research on the internet.  Okay, I research using the internet from time to time, but I also use databases which are unquestionably useful resources.  Oh, and Mordeaux's website links to Wikipedia, the internet's most notoriously unscrupulous source, where anyone can write anything.

After reading this ridiculous book, cover to cover mind you, I did some digging around to find out about the author and publisher.  The book is, not surprisingly, self-published and after this I will never buy another self-published book again as long as I live.  This accounts for the fact that this book has almost no editing.  Many sentences are run together in such a way that they're almost indecipherable, punctuation is wrong in more places than I can count, it is more than clear that no fact checking occurred, words are misspelled, and the author often uses the wrong word entirely (ie. Mordeaux says boar when they mean bore).  Where was the editor?!  I would be humiliated to put my name on this if I were Mordeaux, yet they don't have to be humiliated because they take no credit for their work.

If I've learned anything, it's that authors unwilling to put a face with the name have zero credibility.  This author's website is thin on information and has no author bio.  I don't even know if the perpetrator of this heinous crime against the English language is a man or a woman.  The icing on the cake is that the author is trying to make money, on their website, by selling t-shirts and mugs and bumperstickers with their brand on it.  Credibility first, then t-shirts and mugs, otherwise you just look like a shyster.

Whatever you do, do not buy this horrible book.  I never leave reviews on Amazon, but I think that this time I'm going to.  One of the reviewers over there suggested, quite conspiratorially, that Mordeaux had their friends and family put up dummy reviews to bring in more sales.  When I first read that, I was appalled, but now, having read the book, I'm not only not appalled, I believe that's probably the case.  I should not only get my money back, but should be awarded hazard pay for the four hours of my life I wasted on this trash.

What a disappointment.