The Kiss of Life

I decided to read The Kiss of Life by Barbara Cartland in order to see what her writing was like, and to be able to state that I had read at least one of her novels. I recall as a child reading about her in the Guinness Book of World Records, where she was listed as being the most prolific author, selling X-million novels and writing almost two dozen of them in a single year. Almost forty years ago my library carried her works in paperback, and they were the slimmest books, all of which presented her photo on the back cover wearing enough makeup to ice a cake and lounging on a throne-like chair bedecked in white fur and holding a lapdog. I don’t know how much of an accurate impression I can make after reading merely one of her novels, however, yet from the moment I picked up The Kiss of Life, I couldn’t put it down. It was a speedy read with realistic dialogue.

Lord Yelverton, an archaeologist whose first name we never learn, travels to Mexico in search of the mysterious cave which produced a pair of precious artifacts. After travelling so far he finds that he needs someone to guide him the rest of the way, yet the local archaeologist is too preoccupied with painting and womanizing to care, so he sends his daughter Tula to help the lord find the cave. Supernatural forces outside the cave send Yelverton almost to his death by drowning, and it is Tula who saves his life by giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (hence “the kiss of life”).

After a spiritual marriage of convenience–committed to appease the spirits guarding the cave–Yelverton is allowed in and then pillages the place. Meanwhile, it is inevitable in such a short book that he and Tula should fall in love. However, I quickly drew tired of Tula, whose timidity and overall sexual inexperience meant that she could never utter a sentence without a series of annoying ellipses, such as:

“‘Please… Please…listen to me!’ Tula begged. ‘Because I feel like…this and because I know that for you it was different…you must…go away… There is no need to worry about me. I shall have…many things to do…and I am deeply grateful because you have given me such…happiness.'”

If I read her dialogue each time with the pauses as they were intended I would have no idea what she was saying without subsequent rereads, so after a while I just read her lines as if there were no interruptions. Cartland introduced the drama of the reluctant damsel refusing the charms of a much older gentleman, giving Tula spiritual mumbo jumbo to sputter out as excuses, yet in stories like this we all know she would change her mind.

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