I see trees of green, red roses too, I see sexy villains on screen and page, and I think to myself: what a wonderful world. Yes, there's been another villain sighting - and in a book, for the first time in ages. I'm greatly cheered by this experience: apparently, the good old craft of villain-creating hasn't been abandoned altogether, and there are still discoveries to be made out there. For this optimistic new outlook, I give thanks to Kate Saunders and her novel Wild Young Bohemians.
This novel is right up my alley in other ways as well - almost ridiculously so, in that way that makes you feel that perhaps you are part of some well-known market segment after all, and that there actually are books catering specifically to your taste. A group of Oxford students form a society of sorts called, you guessed it, Wild Young Bohemians. As life catches up with them they become considerably less wild and bohemian, but there's still a lot of glamour and romance to be had. One of their number, the pathologically self-centred, beautiful Melissa, has an obsession with Quenville, her old (well, 19th-century) family estate now fallen into ruin, and an unsolved mystery connected with it. I'm a sucker for old family estates, but this time around I was less caught up with the Quenville plot than with the lives and loves of the old Oxford group when they enter the real world. And then, there's the villain hottie, Johnny Ferrars - a delinquent vagabond and consequently rougher than what I'm used to. However, he turns out to be as intelligent and charismatic as any middle-class baddie - not to mention stunning - and gains, in due course, the aspirations necessary to rise in the world. I lapped up the pages as he worked his way through the Oxford contingent in quest of his real goal, Melissa. Here, finally, is a villain whose attractions are acknowledged - there is, in other words, villain sex aplenty.
More than one character (mostly people he's slept with) single out Johnny as evil. I thought that my theme for this blog post would turn out to be the problem of evil - as opposed to mere wickedness in the forms of selfishness, resentment, ruthless ambition, greed and what have you which is completely OK. Evil, as I define it, is doing harm for harm's sake - a seemingly irrational destructiveness. This is where I think I draw the line: a villain-lover like me does her normal run of champions small service if she encourages that sort of thing (I mean, most of my boys just want to get on in the world - is that so wrong?). I've always imagined that I'd be able to detect, and back away from, the smell of sulphur. But there is nothing to say that a truly evil character can't be charming and funny too - and then where are you?
Luckily, it turns out that Johnny isn't as evil as all that - though certainly malevolent enough to make the odd mine-closing or snuffbox-hiding incident appear downright harmless. In fact (as the reader has guessed, but the Oxford group are slow to acknowledge) he's not even the most evil character in the book. He develops a chink in his armour, and might not even be beyond redemption. Relieved as I was not to have fancied a being of unmitigated evil, I confess I was, just in this case, a teensy bit disappointed in a plot development which I'd have loved if it had concerned a less hard-line bad guy. Leader of the pack appeal does not altogether suit a man like Johnny, who's a beagle boy and then some if ever I saw one. All the same, Wild Young Bohemians is a very satisfying read - especially if, like me, you get irritated by the fact that villains tend to get laid far less than is credible, considering their general attractiveness. This is partly their own fault for foolishly falling for the wrong people - but more of that another time (and I suspect that I will have reason to broach the subject sooner than I would like).