Book Review: “Scarlett” by Alexandra Ripley
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a diehard “Windie” (Gone with the Wind fan). I’ve read the 1,037 page book (my second-favorite of all time, after Les Miserables), about six times, and I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve seen the film. I just know that it’s over 20. And if you’ve been looking at my sidebar, you might have noticed that I’ve been reading “Scarlett” a sequel to GWTW authorized by the Margaret Mitchell Estate and written by Southern romance author Alexandra Ripley. I’ve heard VERY mixed reviews on this book, so I thought that I had to read and judge it for myself. I don’t believe in any sequels unless they are written by the original author, so I read this for pure entertainment, and to see just how good it is. Well…I’m sorry to say that the negative hype that had always surrounded the book is 100% true in my opinion. The book gradually got harder and harder to read, there were weeklong periods where I would neglect it in favor of doing something else, and it became a serious drag by the end. When I finished it last night, I was so physically exhausted in such a bad way, as though I had been put through the wringer. Now I present to you my “list of grievances”, every single thing I found wrong with this travesty.
GWTW Became Commercialized: The Mitchell Estate made a BIG mistake when choosing Alexandra Ripley as author of their proposed GWTW sequel. Yes, she, like Mitchell, was a Southern writer. But she, unlike Mitchell, wrote fluffy romance novels. You know, the ones that your mother or other female family member enjoyed and that you liked to flip through when she wasn’t looking. This sequel was so…commercialized and mass-market. It was cheap. “Scarlett” is nothing but an overly-long “bodice ripper” romance or 1980s Harlequin romance with some of Mitchell’s characters thrown in, and Ripley’s illogical creations thrown in there as well. I’m sure you’ve come across fan fiction. This book is like a really REALLY bad, really REALLY long fan fiction.
Ripley is not Mitchell: As I’ve stated above, nothing really ties the two authors together. Why Ripley was chosen, I have no idea. As I plowed through the stupid book, I couldn’t help but question if Ripley actually read and studied Mitchell’s work before attempting to work with her material and characters. It was that ludicrous! Considering the thin storyline, the book was much too long–823 pages–and felt much longer than the four-figure page number of the original. That’s a problem. The “drama” was so forced, as though Ripley had a page requirement to fill. Did she think that writing a long book would make her novel as much of an epic as Mitchell’s? That’s the most laughable idea imaginable! But Ripley made no bones about it. She said herself that she took on the assignment only to bolster her own fame and so “everyone can listen to every damn thing she had to say”, to paraphrase a quote of hers. I have no clue how this hot mess made it past the publishers! These were my thoughts after reading about a quarter of the book, but I have an annoying habit of seeing every book I read till the end, and I secretly hoped to find something of merit in the novel, so I marched onward. To be completely honest, if you changed the names “Scarlett and Rhett” to something else and placed the book in cheap romance section of the bookstore, then this book would’ve been passable (a 2 out of 5) but since it is the sequel to the greatest American novel of all time, it’s simply horrible! Ms Mitchell does not deserve to have her work desecrated and cheapened in this way. The writing is nothing like hers, and the characters don’t retain their personalities. At. All. It’s unethical for someone else to take another author’s work and mess around with their plot, settings, and characters. However, this is not entirely Ripley’s fault. She was commissioned to write this (what happened in the book though, is her fault). As a reviewer on Amazon said, “There is no such thing as a sequel to a masterpiece”.
The Plot: In a nutshell, it is ludicrous, laughable, unbelievable, and downright boring and pointless. It gets rid of all the characters we know and love, gives us a bunch of stupid new ones, and takes the action from Georgia to Ireland. IRELAND?! Anyway, in GWTW all the actions and dialogue carried some weight or meaning and helped to propel the novel forward. In “Scarlett”, all the actions were absolutely meaningless, the dialogue was stupefyingly cliched and forced, and it combined to make a story more stagnant than an algae-infested swamp in the middle of July. Nothing leads to nothing (I never understood that line from King Lear until now) and the characters do not develop whatsoever. They’re still the same insipid things we started out with on page one. All 823 pages are filled with tea parties, balls, hunts, dances, musicales, and house parties that lead to scenic NOWHERE. All of it can be removed and there would be no difference in the action of the story. But the actions that do propel the story forward are so unbelievable and bizarre. There is no detail (save who wore what and who said what at whose party), and none of that sweeping, grand imagery in GWTW.
Scarlett Sells Tara: Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Sorry for the language, but there are some times in which it is needed. And this is one of those times. Tara was Scarlett’s lifeblood, her sanctuary, her place to go when she needed to get away from it all and find peace and renewed energy. She loved Tara more than she loved herself; it was a crucial theme of the original novel. She did anything for it, even marry men she didn’t love just to build it back to its former greatness. However, Ripley has Scarlett sell Tara without a second thought. In a heartbeat. In the blink of an eye. Suddenly, she feels that she “doesn’t belong” at Tara. THE FUCK?! And she doesn’t sell it to just anyone. She sells it to Suellen. The sister she always hated with all her heart. The sister who did not understand the value of Tara in GWTW. That is a shocking shame and insult to fans of the novel and the film.
The Characters: Ripley makes quick work of getting rid of Mitchell’s beloved, lively characters and stuffing in droves of her own boring, flat, two-dimensional ones instead. Not only are all the characters seriously under-developed and remain the same from beginning to end, but they have a really bad habit of coming in at random moments and disappearing suddenly, never to be heard from again. Not even like, five chapters into the book, Mammy is killed off (because she would just get in the way of Scarlett’s misadventures later on in the book). Ashley, Aunt Pitty, Wade, Ella, Will Benteen, Suellen…everyone is thrown away as soon as possible. Nor does Scarlett seem to care. I really would’ve liked to see how she keeps her promise to Melanie from the end of GWTW, but do you think that even crossed Ripley’s mind? No, sir. All of Mitchell’s marvelous characters are killed off or ignored. It’s so upsetting, and obviously reeks of cheap romance novel. All the characters are thrust into the most bizarre and unbelievable situations imagined, that it’s actually kind of funny that someone could’ve thought of this and write it on paper without thinking “this is stupid.” No one, absolutely no one, not even Scarlett and Rhett, are complex or compelling, and are more like weak, diluted shadows of their former selves or knockoff clones of Mitchell’s original characters. Anne Hampton (who Rhett MARRIES in the book!!!) is a bad Melanie clone, Luke Fenton is a bad clone of Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter by Rhett, Cat, is an even worse, freaky clone of Bonnie. It’s all such utter nonsense.
Scarlett: She is so stupid, whiny, irritating, and a poor, mere shadow of the strong spitfire we loved in GWTW. In a masquerade ball (one of the many), she is so stupid she doesn’t even recognize Rhett! She also suddenly renounces her genteel upbringing and ladylike veneer and becomes an Irish peasant who refuses to wear a corset or a fancy gown (instead she’s happy with tacky colored petticoats and striped stockings. Uhh, this isn’t Pippi Longstocking, Alexandra Ripley), receives guests barefoot, has no furniture in her house, dances jigs in the street, spits in her hands, and engages in extramarital sex. Yep, she’s turned into an animal. The Scarlett here is utterly mindless, and none of the growth and maturity from GWTW is present here. Scarlett, who was hard-headed, unimaginative, and full of common sense, suddenly takes an interest in superstition, magic and mysticism (which the book is rife with). In GWTW, Scarlett renounces religion and has trouble understanding the minds of the people around her. So now she blindly believes the fairy tales people tell her? This magic crap started when she went to Ireland (because the official religion of Ireland is magic, obviously), and shot through the roof after a creepy-ass witch lady gives her a caesarean with the kitchen knife on Halloween night. And the witch lady heals her with her magical spells. What the fuck is this? Harry Potter? And what is the wonderful name she gives her child? CAT. You know, after those things that meow. And then she suddenly becomes the world’s most loving, caring, and doting mother to Cat, after she practically alienated her other three children from her in GWTW and continues to abandon Wade and Ella in this sequel! Does Ripley think we’re stupid or something? Her own plot is so riddled with holes that it even contradicts itself! Also while in Ireland, she doesn’t realize that a civil war is brewing right under her nose, even though she’s already been through one! And suddenly, Scarlett is secretly supporting the Fenian Brotherhood and inviting Charles Parnell to her house (I don’t know if Ripley was trying to be all smartass on us and sneak in a Gable reference) when she would literally sleep with her eyes open every time politics was mentioned in the original. What’s even more annoying is that the Irish in the book are so fake and pagan that they worship Scarlett as some sort of savior or goddess, calling her “The O’Hara” (great title, huh?) and she becomes so…nice. Scarlett, that famously flawed, selfish, spoiled brat starts doing benevolent things for people without a greedy ulterior motive. This rebirth of Scarlett as this golden soul was a TOTAL FAIL and reflected no understanding at all of Mitchell’s work. The ending of the book is totally implausible and laughable, to say it nicely (I might as well reveal the end, no one deserves to go through the entire book to find out). The townspeople (yeah, Scarlett builds her own town on the O’Hara’s former land…Ballyhara. Can it get any dumber?) rebel against Scarlett, accusing her and her daughter of witchcraft (WTF?!) They burn her town down and go looking for her, pitchforks and torches in hand. Meanwhile, she reunites with Rhett (who just happens to randomly appear in Ireland) and escapes with him and Cat to hide from the dissenters in a creepy, old tower that’s apparently haunted by a ghost, where she wants to do nothing but have sex on the stone floor with Rhett, while her child sleeps like, a foot away from them, and her town is in flames around them. My mind cannot even begin to describe how stupid this ending was.
Rhett: No longer the witty, sarcastic scoundrel that captured the hearts and minds of women everywhere, Rhett loses all of his masculinity and becomes so attached to his mother that it’s unnatural. He becomes so serious and kind of a wimp, not the reckless dashing blackguard of GWTW. After living through a storm at sea while going on an innocent boating excursion with Scarlett in the beginning of the book, he has sex on the beach with her (WOW). Afterwards he tells her he only did it because they didn’t drown in the boating accident. Then he deserts her on the island. It’s so stupid! And my eyes were glazing over every time I read about how good Rhett looked in his apparently wrinkle-proof sweater. The reader also learns that Rhett goes back to Charleston not only to make amends with his family, but to rebuild his plantation (since when did he even care about his stupid plantation?) and indulge in his new favorite hobby of planting flowers. RHETT BUTLER PLANTING FLOWERS. You read right, unfortunately. And why, oh WHY did he marry that Melanie clone?!?!?!
The Traveling: Scarlett goes wherever she wants: from Tara to Charleston, Charleston to Savannah, America to Ireland, Ireland to America, across the entire country of Ireland…all in the blink of an eye. She instantly pops from place to place like some kind of magician, and the journey across the Atlantic from America to Ireland is of no consequence or importance to her! There was one part in which she journeys across Ireland, forward and back, in one day. By horse. What’s she got, Pegasus? Oh, and Ireland is not the size of your backyard, Alexandra Ripley.
Ireland: How could Scarlett abandon her beloved Tara for Ireland? Wasn’t this the great AMERICAN novel??? It’s absolutely INSULTING to GWTW fans, since Ripley messed around with a cornerstone of American culture and literature by ripping the story out and putting it in a different country. Georgia becomes a distant, painless memory to Scarlett. One of the greatest things about GWTW was the backdrop of the South, with its grandeur and uniquely American attitude. Moving the action to Ireland is ridiculous! Ripley obviously didn’t want to fool with postwar Georgia (because she knew nothing about it), but what she did was blasphemous, since the south was the essence of the novel. As soon as Scarlett met her Irish relations, I knew it going to go downhill from there. And boy, it went downhill like a monstrous avalanche. This book was not only insulting to GWTW fans, but it was insulting to the Irish. I’m not Irish, but I do know many people of Irish descent, and they aren’t superstitious, crazy alcoholics who believe in fairies and leprechauns! She makes it seem like Grimm’s Fairy Tales is the Irish Bible. It destroyed that sense of place and history so prevalent in Mitchell’s original.
The Sex: Being a cheap romance novelist, Ripley tried to add a sex element to her sequel, but failed embarrassingly. Scarlett is turned into an unnaturally beautiful, ageless seductress, even though she’s almost 40 by the time the novel ends. The drunken kiss/attack on Scarlett from Ross Butler (Rhett’s brother) was pointless and downright ridiculous. Scarlett, who famously loathed sex and found the act repulsive, suddenly lured men like a vamp and had extramarital sex with one that she barely knew. After a boating accident, she has sex on the beach with Rhett (which is the cheesiest thing in the entire world). And a scene in which she sensually fondles herself when thinking about Rhett STILL makes my skin crawl.
But I Learned Something From This Book: Now I know why the original story ended where it did. There was simply nothing more to write, no more story to tell. Mitchell took ten years to write GWTW, and she was very tired of it. In her will, she requested that all her notes and manuscripts dealing with GWTW be destroyed. This was faithfully carried out by her husband. We were clearly never meant to know what happens to Scarlett and Rhett. One of the beautiful things about GWTW was that the reader can create their own ending for Scarlett and Rhett. The magic of the novel lies in that cliffhanger, and cemented its timelessness in the hearts of millions.