Monday, 6 June 2011

More Sour than Sweet...

The adventures of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield were among my favourite stories during my pre-teen and teen years. Exchanging piles of books each weekend at Stanmore library to sate my voracious literary appetite and dining in on the loves, lies and sun-kissed lives of these Hollywood-standard beauties. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I received my copy of Francine Pascal’s decade old tribute to her twin heroines, revisiting Sweet Valley High ten years on.

However, though it started well, evoking the OTT descriptions of the Wakefield beauty and the page-turning pace that kept me hooked during every other SVH tome; something started to jar this time. It wasn’t the lost love: the fabled romance between Elizabeth and former-basketball hero, Todd Wilkins had met its fate at the hands of Elizabeth’s ditzy, manipulative sister, Jessica. It wasn’t the split storytelling between Elizabeth’s rundown New York apartment and the sun-drenched Californian oasis in Sweet Valley. And it wasn’t the fact that our heroines seemed to have switched personalities in the ten years they have been absent from our bookshelves.

No, as I attempted to immerse myself in Pascal’s prose it dawned on me that the sparkle which had so attracted me to her tales all those years ago had been lost as she endeavoured to reignite the relationship she had with her heroines. They just weren’t there anymore. Their appearances may have been the same but the substance which made them who they were seemed to have disappeared and they could easily have been any blonde, blue-eyed heroine in any story. Their traits were magnified as though to remind their creator who she was writing about and there was more retrospective and back story than I could quite willingly take.

Jumping from third to first person depending on which era she was writing in, I found it fairly disjointed at best, and excessively boring at worst. It was not the Sweet Valley I remembered from my youth – the sugary-sweet tales of revenge, intrigue, friendship, romance and rivalry – it was a sad return to a much-loved film set that had long-since lost its allure and glamour, replaced now by a depressing reality.

Pascal ties up the ends of this anniversary issue in a pretty bow, making sure to end on smiles and happy endings – though a tad implausible and rather predictable – and includes a brief rundown of past characters in her epilogue. However, I sadly did not close the final page with the sense of satisfaction I had been hoping for, but then perhaps my expectations had been too high. After all, a lot can change in ten years, I guess I just thought the Wakefield twins, like so many of my literary heroes and heroines, would be forever entrenched within the pages of the stories I loved.

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