The Last Romantics is the fourth novel by Fareh Iqbal. I have read Iqbal’s three prior novels and it is necessary to read all of them first, since Iqbal references storylines and characters from all three in The Last Romantics. All of Iqbal’s works were rapid reads because they are pushed ahead by constant action. The pages turn because the characters grab their edges and flip them for you as they gallivant through Paris. The four young women who are the last romantics are in the city of light with Jordan Castlemoore (from Fernweh) as she prepares for her wedding with William. We relive all of their dramas and love stories from the preceding novels and share their joy as they prepare for a wedding in the most romantic city on the planet.
Franchesca (Ray) Driftwood is still the owner of a bookstore but now she is a famous writer. In The Last Romantics she is troubled by a lack of inspiration and a state of depression where she often refuses to eat. Her fellow romantics are worried that she might be suffering from anorexia since Ray is prone to wearing baggy sweaters and there are frequent references to her bony figure. I hoped that Iqbal might have chosen to explore this deeper side of the author’s personality by painting Ray as a suffering artist, however Ray is quickly gorging on crepes and croissants once she arrives in Paris.
Like Iqbal I have been to Paris and before I left I asked a beloved colleague about her own trip there. I wanted some of her recommendations for must-sees. She sent me to one place I simply had to visit first. Not the Eiffel Tower and not Notre-Dame Cathedral, but the city’s most famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. I highly enjoyed reading about Ray’s visit to this store and I can certainly identify with the cases of books she brought back home. I usually pack a collapsible suitcase in my own luggage for this very reason. Iqbal’s literary talent is her gift for description. Wind-swept Parisian streets and the romantic lights along the Seine are given a new life in what must be the most described city on earth. Hungry readers will salivate at Iqbal’s lush choice of words when she describes French delicacies, and her sense of humour is keenly observant:
“Ray tentatively poked at the pastry, ‘It looks like a poodle exploded all over it.’ She caught Sophie’s scandalized expression, ‘A delicious poodle. One made out of strawberries and cream.’ Ray cut into the pastry shell, her fork emerging victorious with clotted cream.”
The choice of dog breed, poodle, or specifically a French poodle, seems entirely appropriate. I was touched by one poignant scene in the novel which centres on Jordan’s brewing doubts about marriage. She is surrounded by her three friends and opens up her heart and mind such that the cliché of “cold feet” would seem a sorry understatement. In particular I liked Iqbal’s simile “Her face crumpled like a forgotten paper doll” to describe Jordan’s sudden crestfallen countenance.
I chose to read all four of Iqbal’s novels because I was interested in the work of a local author and wanted to see her develop as a writer. I could only do this if I read each book in chronological order. It must be exhilarating to have your own work published. I can only imagine what it must feel like to see your name on the cover and your words on the printed page. This is your work, your art and the sum of your passionate efforts. Unlike those who may have read Iqbal’s work as each book came out, I embraced the Iqbal oeuvre after all four novels had already been published. The span from the first novel to the fourth was a mere fifteen months, hardly a time for an author to evolve when she’s churning out books at a Barbara Cartlandian velocity.
I sometimes assign themes to my year of reading, while in other years the theme only reveals itself after I discover a pattern in the choice of books I have read. 2016 will go down as the year of the self-published novel. I have read more self-published works than in any other year, totalling seven books by three authors. It is sad to state, and indeed unfortunate to declare for the sixth time, that I cannot fathom how any author can release her work to the general public without making the effort to have the work edited first. This is a remark I am getting pretty damned tired of making. One must wonder why two of these local authors (whose combined efforts total six books) forsook the publishing necessity of showing their manuscripts to another set of trained eyes. Were they in such an ebullient rush to get their books to print, that editing slipped their minds? Sure, your book is in print, and you can say to yourself I am a published author two or four times over, but can you really be proud of yourself when your work is teeming with errors? All six books were embarrassingly full of them.
Where oh where do I begin? I am a line editor, and I can let a lot of stuff slide as I read the overall sloppiness of the printed pages of today. I have to, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to read anything. But show me a work that hasn’t been edited at all, and I morph into a monster who wields his blue pencil like a shiv. I become the Canadian version of Michiko Kakutani and when I get so fed up with an unedited text I let nothing pass. While I can often forgive a spelling error or grammatical faux pas, if your book is such a thorough mess that it makes me want to slam it shut and throw it against a wall, the author will suffer the consequences. I do not suffer bad writing and I do not suffer unedited works.
In my reviews of these six self-published books by two local authors I claim, nonetheless, to be supportive of their work. I think I fall over myself trying to convey that each of these six books has its own merits, however the presentation of such a sloppy manuscript overshadows any of these merits. A sullied text detracts from the reading experience, and an assembly-line of spelling errors and grammatical gaffes ruins it. Supportive readers read the entire book cover to cover. A supportive reader writes an honest review and offers an assessment. Friends and family members who also write reviews might be reluctant to share anything less than five-star fawning praise. These two self-published authors, Fareh Iqbal and Karen E. Black, write under their own name, and as a reviewer, so do I. I do not hide behind an alias on Amazon or Goodreads and I will defend any review I post there or on any other book review website. I will defend my review even to the authors themselves. Most importantly, though, supportive readers are always on the author’s side. I could have dropped reading any more of Iqbal after book one or two, but I stuck with her because I like the author and her stories. That’s what supportive readers do. I may have enjoyed the images, simile and stories in the works of both Iqbal and Black, but I pilloried both of them for the sorry state of their works’ unedited presentation. This criticism is entirely separate from their artful gift for writing. I like and admire both Iqbal and Black. They are authors and that to me is an honoured profession. I want so much to rave about their work and brag about them. I cannot do so if the presentation of their work is so overwhelmingly substandard. What has prevented either author from showing her work to a skilled pair of editorial eyes? I can’t fathom an answer, although I have floated several theories. No author should serve as his or her own editor, and it would be temerarious to think otherwise. I mean it when I say that I’m supportive when I declare publicly that I will volunteer my services to line-edit these authors’ next works. They might never want to see me again much less hand over their next manuscript to me, but I will forgo my editorial rate to help them present a work worthy of their artful skills. And if that offer isn’t indicative of a supportive reader, then at least hire and pay for an editor. Please. No one may have written or told you two that your works are editorial messes, but everyone is thinking it.
That said, The Last Romantics was, like all of Iqbal’s works, a charming and enticing read. This book was easy to fall into and dream, all the more if the reader has been to Paris. Iqbal took me back to the Parisian summer streets when I was there in 2009, and I thank her for the travel through time. Her characters are believable, uttering lines that flow rapidly. Stilted dialogue is awkward and requires rereads, while Iqbal’s characters speak like real people. It is not easy to write dialogue resemblant of real life, and Iqbal has nailed it in her work. In my review of Im(mortal), I felt that her third novel was her strongest work to date. She continues on this strength with The Last Romantics, her best book yet. I have so much praise for Iqbal; it is simply a shame that her books are not presented in a flawless edited state. Instead of putting this promising author on centre stage, my focus is on the substandard stage of production, which–especially by her fourth novel–cannot be ignored.
I refrain from reading any reviews before I write and post my own. I will not be influenced by anyone or by any book’s Amazon star count. Therefore reviews like mine may serve as information for the reader after he or she has already read your book. Reviews like mine may also embarrass authors into wholly reprinting or editing their work. My merciless blue pencil has seen two authors do just that in the past two and a half years. Authors who took my editorial advice deserve to be congratulated and praised, not gloated upon. Heed my forthcoming editorial advice or not, but the line-editing has been done for you. Emphasis in italics is mine, except for the French passages, which were rendered in italics in the original text:
When I first read The Bookkeeper’s Daughter I made a note, but did not comment on it in my review, that the protagonist Ray Driftwood sure did an awful lot of sighing. Breath was expelled so often that I thought Ray would pass out. I noticed the same propensity for sighing in the next two novels. By the time I picked up The Last Romantics, I thought it would be interesting to track how often the characters sighed. Each time someone sighed, I’d record the page number. I was strict in my count; Iqbal also employed verbs such as exhaled and breathed but I only tracked the number of times characters sighed. In a book of 246 pages, the four leading women were breathless after sighing on the following pages: 5, 33, 40, 56, 59, 75, 85, 94, 96, 109 (twice), 128, 143, 154, 160, 161, 165, 174, 192, 197 (twice), 214, 218, 219, 220, 221 (three times), 226. An editor would suggest other ways of expressing exasperation, contentment, concession or any of the myriad other feelings in ways other than by always sighing.
This story takes place in Paris and the French in the text should have been vetted by a native speaker or at least a fluent speaker first. The following are the faux pas en français:
Repeated references to William as the fiancée of Jordan (pp. 49, 182 and 192, among others). This is the feminine form. For men about to be married, use fiancé. Iqbal also refers to a male waiter’s blonde hair on p. 69.
“It was known as Place de Revolution.” (p. 65). It should be Place de la Révolution.
“…merrily humming along to Edith Phiaf.” (p. 70). Her surname is spelled Piaf. I myself do not like to render accents on French capital letters so I congratulate Iqbal for not writing Édith.
A reference to the French dish duck l’orange (p. 77) when the correct term is duck à l’orange.
Repeated references to the cookie macaroon (p. 84, but I did not record its occurrences elsewhere) when I am certain Iqbal meant the decidedly French confection called the macaron.
“…and that French je ne sais qois.” (p. 160). Should be je ne sais quoi.
Usage of the term toute de suite, when the correct spelling is tout de suite.
“In the immortal words of Julia Child, bon apetit!” (p. 188) when Iqbal does get it right as Bon appétit on p. 227.
“Shore-zan, sil vous plait…” (p. 194) when Iqbal does get it right as s’il vous plaît on p. 201.
“Comprendez?” (p. 199). The correct form of the conjugation is Comprenez.
“Oui! Ce’st bon!” (p. 209). Should be C’est.
A reference to Sacré-Cœu on p. 216 instead of Sacré-Cœur. Bonus points for employing the œ ligature, though.
French gaffes now over, here are my notes about the rest of the text:
A flipflop between pajama(s) (p. 1) and pyjamas (p. 13) which continues throughout the text. Iqbal spells it pajamas on pp. 149 and 156 but as pyjama on p. 162.
Ray Driftwood runs a bookshop yet it is alternately called a bookshop as well as a book shop. On p. 7 both terms are used. Her store is located in England where the pound sterling is the official currency but early in the book Ray conducts a book transaction using euros.
“The past two years been particularly wonderful for Ray who had finally published her novels.” (p. 9).
“…she was nimble enough to climb on top of counters to reach high shelves. shelves.” (p. 21). Erroneous repetition.
I rail into authors who render the possessive form of it with an apostrophe S. I have never encountered the opposite of this grammatical gaffe, namely employing the contraction without the apostrophe. Iqbal committed this fault on pp. 36, 67, 139 and 173 (twice). On p. 74 the S is missing, as in “It’ pretty public, right down to the lingerie.”
“If that’s what you kids are calling it these day…” (first word in the original text in italics; p. 46)
References to clothes designers Langfeld and Marc Jacob (both on p. 64) when their names are Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs.
“…which at first glance looked like as though it was embedded…” (p. 66). Remove like.
Greengrocer’s plurals: corner’s (p. 43), friend’s (p. 139), café’s (p. 175) and a wholly incorrect plural form in “That’s the thing, these crisis’s affect us all…” (p. 82). The correct and only form of the plural of crisis is crises.
“Jordan pointed to Ray with a long finer adorned with a stack of gold rings.” (p. 45)
“I’ve become of those girls that are entirely too comfortable…” (p. 73)
“Jordan’s face with bathed with a golden glow…” (p. 76)
“All we have to do it look close enough and recognize them.” (p. 87)
“I don’t think people made rules, per say.” (p. 115). The Latin expression is spelled per se.
Incorrect verb agreement in “…and a tempest of emotions begin to stir in my mind” (p. 143). Should be begins. Also, “A soft knock on the door snap me out of my reverie…” (p. 144). Should be snaps. And “A stack of well-used English grammar books are lined haphazardly…” (p. 168). Should be is.
“T-thank you” (p. 148) should have been rendered as “Th-thank you” to represent stuttering.
There are some grammatical errors that make me livid. I encountered two such travesties on opposite sides of the same page:
“…Jax yelps, almost spilling her tea all over Sophie and I” (p. 153) and “…William calls once more to a chorus of goodbyes from Jax, Sophie and I” (p. 154). In both cases the pronoun that follows the prepositions (over and from) must be in the accusative, thus me. Write the same sentences without Jax and Sophie. How would you write the first one? Would you write “…Jax yelps, almost spilling her tea all over I“? Would you? Of course not. You’d write it using the pronoun me, which is also the correct form of the pronoun in the second sentence.
Then I encountered this error again on p. 168: “Squinting I examine it closer, it’s a picture of Jordan and I…” (I will get to Iqbal’s run-on sentences and lack of comma placement later.) The pronoun I follows the preposition of, thus write “…it’s a picture of Jordan and me…” Take Jordan out of it; would you write “…it’s a picture of I…“?
“…I can do nothing but offer words of compassion that roll of her shoulders…” (p. 160)
It was at this point in my notations (after page 160) that I remarked, after making a mental note of it throughout the book, that Iqbal always capitalized the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Why?
I found fewer run-on sentences in The Last Romantics than in Iqbal’s three previous books. A sentence does not have to be long in order to be considered a run-on; the example above beginning with “Squinting” simply needs a comma after the first word. Without it, the words pile up like a car crash when the first punctuation mark is encountered. A lack of punctuation forces the reader to start the sentence over, which ruins the flow of reading and puts the distracted reader on alert for when to mentally insert missing commas. I bypassed many run-on sentences when they only required a single comma for proper punctuation, but the example below could not escape my criticism. Please, divide it into several sentences:
“My mouth waters as William carries out the chicken on a platter, followed by Jordan with the pizzas arranged artistically on a pale yellow tray, I trail behind with the salad bowl and as I hear Sophie’s squeal of delight and Jax’s yelp of surprise as she pops a pizza in her mouth too soon, followed by William’s deep laugh and Jordan’s plea for everyone to settle down so we can still catch the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower in the evening, I feel warm contentment flooding in my veins, the dull ache in my heart temporarily forgotten.” (p. 151)
All of Iqbal’s works can be transformed into praiseworthy examples by a budding new author if they were corrected in their next printings.