“This is not your grandma’s fairy tale… Brilliant.” —The Washington Post
“The Force of Such Beauty grips with the strength of an Olympian and holds it with the endurance of a marathoner … [to] an ending that actually caught my breath, not once, but twice in quick succession.”—The Associated Press
One sunny afternoon in an idyllic kingdom by the sea, a princess named Caroline pretends to sleep. When her keepers strike up a card game, Caroline sneaks into her maid’s car, turns the key, and drives right out of the palace. Alone for the first time in years, she gets on the next flight—only to land in the waiting arms of her guards. As she’s forcibly escorted back to her marble prison, something in Caroline breaks for good. It’s not her first failed attempt, and it won’t be her last. Caroline suspects that she’ll never escape. But she might find a way to be free.
Barbara Bourland’s stunning third novel, a phantasmagorical fable of love and marriage, is her most ambitious and inventive book to date. Inspired by the alleged escape attempts of real-life princesses, The Force of Such Beauty is both the story of an idealistic young woman trapped by a corrupt promise, and a deeply moving reminder that power structures around the world ultimately rest on the subjugation of women’s bodies.
“A fascinating novel about bodies, the way we use them, and the way we break them. It’s one of several works to come out this year concerned with the appropriation of female beauty by powerful men, and examines a harsh choice in the lives of women dubbed desirable by the patriarchal state: do you participate, or do you say no?…Bourland is skilled at finding the noir in the everyday, and illustrating the mechanisms of control that keep us in our place.”—Crime Reads, Best Books of the Year (So Far)
Bourland (Fake Like Me) draws inspiration from real-life princesses for her deliciously scandalous latest. In 2000, 21-year-old Caroline Muller from Johannesburg sets the record for the women's marathon. A year and a half later, she falls during the Athens marathon, shattering her hip and suffering a cheekbone fracture. After five surgeries at an American hospital, where she meets Prince Ferdinand Fieschi of Lucomo, who's recovering after a car accident in which his fiancée was killed, her reconstructed face radiates with a new beauty. A relationship develops between Caroline and Ferdinand, and she hopes for a fairy tale marriage ("The force of such beauty is meant to destabilize a person. I was no exception"). The match turns out to be anything but happy, as she is soon confronted by the ridiculous demands of producing heirs and respecting etiquette. Indeed, the life of a princess is far lonelier and more dangerous than she imagined. Though a plot involving the royals' shady business practices feels anticlimactic, Bourland offers a smart critique of a corrupt world's disenchanting effects on a naive young woman. The result is satisfyingly dark and twisted.