#109-110 Gabriel’s Inferno & Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard

One of the AWESOME things about being a book blogger is being able to converse with other readers/bloggers and form amazing friendships. My buddy Kelly of Reading With Analysis is one of the people I have been able to get to know through our shared love of books.  Kelly and I often shoot tweets and emails off to each other about books that we’re either starting or planning on reading.  Since we’ve found that our tastes are so alike, we often have the same thoughts on books upon finishing them.  When I told Kelly about Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard and how much I liked it, she instantly said she’d read it.  Upon completion we realized that for the first time in our bookish friendship, we had vastly differing opinions.  I’ve convinced Kelly to come on the blog today to discuss this book series with me!

Before we begin I have some quick notes!  My college roommate Ashley is actually the one that told me about Gabriel’s Inferno.  Ashley heard it being compared to Fifty Shades of Grey (review here) in a positive way.  Knowing how I felt about those books, she hesitantly passed the recommendation on to me.  We all know I pretty much hated Fifty Shades of Grey so I was a bit reluctant to try it.  I, however, am not one to say no to book/genre recommendations others give me because of one bad apple. (I stuck with the erotica genre and discovered The Siren (my review/Kelly’s review) and freaking loved it.)  Anyway – to make a long story short – I accepted the recommendation and finished both books in Reynard’s “Gabriel” series over a weekend.

Upon finishing the book and tweeting about it, I discovered a world of people who were NOT the biggest fans of this book.  Comments about misogyny, cheese platters (Cyndy, I’m looking at you), fan fiction, and Twilight were all thrown out.  I had NO idea what I was in for and immediately looked to my buddy Kelly to be on my side of the discussion block. The rest, well, read on and find out.

I’m letting Goodreads do the summary talks for us so that we can get right into the discussion.

Gabriel’s Inferno: Enigmatic and sexy, Professor Gabriel Emerson is a well-respected Dante specialist by day, but by night he devotes himself to an uninhibited life of pleasure. He uses his notorious good looks and sophisticated charm to gratify his every whim, but is secretly tortured by his dark past and consumed by the profound belief that he is beyond all hope of redemption. When the sweet and innocent Julia Mitchell enrolls as his graduate student, his attraction and mysterious connection to her not only jeopardizes his career, but sends him on a journey in which his past and his present collide. An intriguing and sinful exploration of seduction, forbidden love and redemption, “Gabriel’s Inferno” is a captivating and wildly passionate tale of one man’s escape from his own personal hell as he tries to earn the impossible…forgiveness and love.

Gabriel’s Rapture: Professor Gabriel Emerson has embarked on a passionate, yet clandestine affair with his former student, Julia Mitchell. Sequestered on a romantic holiday in Italy, he tutors her in the sensual delights of the body and the raptures of sex. But when they return, their happiness is threatened by conspiring students, academic politics, and a jealous ex-lover. When Gabriel is confronted by the university administration, will he succumb to Dante’s fate? Or will he fight to keep Julia, his Beatrice, forever? In Gabriel’s Rapture, the brilliant sequel to the wildly successful debut novel, Gabriel’s Inferno, Sylvain Reynard weaves an exquisite love story that will touch the reader’s mind, body, and soul, forever.

Kim: Upon finishing these books I heard from multiple people who know my taste in books that they were shocked I enjoyed them!  The term misogynistic got thrown around pretty heavily and I kept scratching my head saying, “what did I miss?”  I opted to do re-reads of the books prior to writing this review to get a fresh perspective and keep my eyes and mind open to what I missed on the first go around.

During my second reading I could definitely understand the misogynistic feelings, slightly.  I know some of my friends were unhappy with how Gabriel didn’t think Julia could function without his care and love.  This is the first aspect of the book I’d like to address.  Yes, Gabriel is at times COMPLETELY OVERWHELMING.  His need to make sure Julia is eating, has heat, has clothes, etc can be a bit much.  I chose to focus more on the aspects of him that were I think more important.  As overbearing as Gabriel could be at times, deep down he genuinely cared for Julia.  His respect of her decision to remain a virgin for the foreseeable future (due to events in her past) should be duly noted.  He also is completely supportive of her educational aspirations and does nothing but encourage her with readings she should expand her knowledge with, etc.  Yes, there is an overbearing aspect to Gabriel’s nature, but I think a lot of that has to do with his past, MAIA, and his addictions.

Gabriel had an INSANE drug problem in his past.  He used to get into coked out hazes and not even realize what was going on around him.  I won’t go into the details behind what MAIA means, but suffice it to say it’s that event that has him struggling to constantly protect those around him.  His past has scarred him in a way that being an overbearing “protector” is the only way he knows how to functionally love someone.  I want it noted that in both books he struggles so much with this part of his personality.  Julia’s presence in his life does bring this side of him out in full force, but the more she is in his life and the more he allows her presence and personality to calm him, the less overbearing he seems.

Kelly: Gabriel’s issues stemming from his drug abuse make sense, sort of.  I mean, it makes sense that he would carry around some guilt about some of the crazy nonsense that happened while he was hopped up on cocaine, and it makes sense that he would take steps to prevent himself from repeating any of those errors.  His past drug abuse does not explain his insanely protective attitude toward Julia, but her complete inability to do anything on her own might prompt this reaction in him.

Kim: Julia at first seems really weak-minded (which makes the overbearing aspect of Gabriel’s personality worse), but this too is due to the past.  Her ex-boyfriend has mentally messed her up so badly that she has no idea of her worth.  This is why Gabriel and Julia work in my eyes.  They both are scarred really badly from their pasts, but with the help of each other and the steadiness of their love, they can learn to overcome what others have done to them.

Kelly:  Julia is a weaksauce diddlehead.  The reader is told, repeatedly, that she’s brilliant, but there’s no real proof throughout the book.  Gabriel thinks she’s a moron when he first meets her, and it isn’t until he accompanies her home, finds out that she got into Harvard but couldn’t attend for financial reasons and sees her as sexually attractive that he begins to invent and flaunt her intelligence.  I mean, seriously, at the beginning he recognizes that she’s kind of special ed (leaving a condolence note for him and not noticing what’s written on the other side–Emerson is an ass–not to mention all the daydreaming in class, yada yada yada) and takes steps to get her kicked out of the Master’s program.  Then he takes her out to dinner and is all drooly over how sexy she is when she drinks wine.  Then he stands up for her when he overhears Christa (the bitchy fellow student) call her stupid, and from then on there’s no convincing him that she’s not the brightest star in the sky.  The problem is that she never actually acts all that intelligent, so his decision to view her as Ms. Smarty-Mc-Smarty just seems… odd.

Anyway, in addition to Julia’s weakness in the upstairs departments, she’s also got crazy baggage. Julia had a bad boyfriend in her past.  He was so bad, he, like, cheated on her and stuff, and he was, like, so mean.  (Just a warning to all the fifteen-year-old girls that I know… I don’t have very much compassion for the fallout of bad relationships.)  OK, so I have a few problems with Julia’s lingering issues from her bad boyfriend.  1.  Julia is 23-years-old at the start of this story, but you’d never know it by her level of emotional maturity.  2.  Yes, he was a bad boyfriend, but I don’t know any women who don’t have at least one bad boyfriend in their pocket, and none of them was destroyed by her bad relationship experience.  3.  I’m not kidding – destroyed.  Julia withdraws from everyone she knows and gets even more shy and insecure around men.  She can’t even stand to think her bad boyfriend’s name… He’s always him and he, like he’s Lord Voldythingy or something.  Have you ever talked to a fifteen year old girl about her relationship experiences?  That’s what reading Julia’s take on her relationship with Simon is like.  Ugh.  But she was 21 (or so) when their relationship ended, and 23 when she’s remembering it.  I kept wishing she would act like it.

Kim: I am 100% agreeing with you on the Simon thoughts.  Up until the incident with him at Thanksgiving (Simon runs into Julia’s house and physically assaults her) the worst thing he did was cheat on her.  Let’s talk real life here for a second folks. I’ve been cheated on. It sucks. You get over it. You move on. Seriously, it sucks, but the way to get the cheating bastard back is to pick your head up, move on, and find someone new.  Julia’s response to the relationship ending is equivalent to every person you know in your entire life dying at the same time. Add to that your house blowing up, all of your money and car getting stolen, and then some. Oh and the world is going to end in a day.  I’ve honestly never in my life read anyone taking a break up as bad as this woman did.  I’ve read books with the female characters having been sexually assaulted and they didn’t act like Julia.

Kelly: Yes!  Julia’s nonsense was one of my biggest problems with this book, but of course, a lot bothered me. (I could not be bothered to read the second installment of the story, so my comments are limited to Gabriel’s Inferno only.)  I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning, because that’s where the book lost me.  One of the biggest issues I had with the book was its inconsistent voice.  Our first introduction to Julia comes through the narrator who seems to use Paul’s POV in describing Julia (the frightened rabbit) and Christa (the bitchy cat), and Julia’s POV in describing Gabriel and Paul.  Julia is small, pale, delicate, rabbit-like; Gabriel is coldly, remotely handsome in a symmetrical way; Christa is a cat in heat; and Paul is good-looking and friendly. The narrator of this book has an identity crisis, and it shows up on page one.  I kept reading, hoping that the inconsistency issues were just a sign of unfinished editing business and would clear up eventually.  They didn’t.  In fact, they got worse.  After about a hundred pages, I started complaining, but by that point I wasn’t just annoyed about the writing.

Kim: I’m jumping in here to say dear god did I hate Paul.  If there is ONE THING I can say I hated from cover to cover, it was Paul. His incessant need of calling Julia his rabbit – I WANTED TO VOMIT.  If there is one character that I COULD agree with on the misogynistic front it could be Paul.  Seriously, he thinks Julia is incapable of holding a door open without him. He is constantly trying to shade Julia from anything that life could possibly throw at her.  It’s ok Paul, walking in the rain won’t kill her.

Kelly: I didn’t see Gabriel as being either more or less misogynistic than Paul.  Julia can’t manage to get her key in the lock around Gabriel (hardy har), so he steps in and does it for her.  He hates her bag, so he buys her a new one.  She can’t eat on her own, apparently, or only eats veggies and couscous, so he feeds her, etc. etc. etc.  He might not be so obvious about it as Paul (he calls her Julianne rather than Rabbit and never compares her to a children’s book character just waiting to be actualized by his manly love–penis–and it might originate from his inclination to protect her from the evil forces of the world (all that innocence destroying that goes on when a poor girl doesn’t eat enough steak), but it comes down to the same result.  Julia is helpless, so Gabriel steps in with a whole bunch of help, whether or not she wants or needs it.  Now, later, when he steps in and is all heroic during the Simon situation, he displays an acceptable level of protectiveness from an actual threat to Julia’s safety, but all the in-Toronto-in-the-beginning stuff is just annoying.

Kim: See, with the things that Gabriel did to/for Julia I got a different sense of why he did it.  Maybe I’m not explaining everything correctly, but Paul’s motives (in my opinion) seemed to come directly from his thinking that Julia couldn’t handle herself.  Even in class he is always trying shield her from Gabriel’s questions etc etc.  Gabriel on the other hand (again, in my opinion) does things for Julia because he loves her.  Once he realizes who she is his motives towards her change.  He wants to take her to dinner and feed her because he knows she really has no money.  Her bag breaks and he knows she can’t afford a new one.  He knows her reasons for being unable to attend Harvard (lack of scholarship) and wants to get her an amazing advisor so that she can get that scholarship.

Kelly:  Well, he wants to get her an amazing advisor so he can bump fuzzies with her.  It is true, sad to say.

Kim: Did you really get the sense that the only reason Gabriel wanted her was to have sex with her? Because I can honestly say (and maybe this is because I read Rapture too) but I never felt as though he was with her for sex.  Like he was hitting up that club and picking women up all the time.  Why would he leave that to be with a virgin who was afraid to become intimate with him because of a jackass ex-boyfriend from her past?

Kelly:  Some men have a… fascination with innocence.  Julia is an innocent character, and it’s her angelic innocence that draws Gabriel in, both during the long-ago encounter in the apple orchard and while he gets to know her in Toronto.  (Part of his anger with Paul is that Paul, not being a professor, is free to fuck the angel, and Gabriel is jealous that he can’t do the same thing.)  He respects her fear of sex, but the main reason that he’s OK with delaying her de-flowering is that it will work better with his timing.  They can date and pretty much live together until the semester is over and she’s no longer his student, and the instant that happens, her hymen is going to get burst.  Of course, that works for Julia, too, because by that point in their relationship she’s an eager participant, but it’s all about Gabriel being the one to pop her cherry, to give her knowledge of the relations between a man and a woman.  He’s going to teach her good, to learn her in all the sensual things that can happen between a man and a woman.  What man would rather have casual sex with random hussies that he meets in a bar than have an experience wherein his experience can so vastly outweigh that of his counterpart, where he can play the god who gets to make the angel real, make a woman out of her… ?

Kim: Yeah, I can see all that but I still question it because of what I know from Rapture. I know that you haven’t read Rapture and I apologize for those reading, but I’m going to do some spoilers here! In Rapture their relationship is discovered by the college board and an investigation is started.  To make a long story short, Gabriel agrees to take a leave of absence, cut ALL ties (I mean it) with Julia, and let her finish out her year and graduate.  Julia is forlorn over Gabriel’s sudden departure and upon graduation and her move to Boston to begin work on her PhD she and Gabriel get back together.  During their time apart she becomes a stronger person (this isn’t that hard, considering she’s pretty weak-minded to begin with) and actually doesn’t agree to get back together with Gabriel upon his return.  When circumstances allow them to get back together he tells Julia that he won’t have sex with her until their relationship is a.) more stable and b.) more permanent.  Julia balks at this at first, but agrees to accept his wishes just as he accepted hers to keep the beginning of their relationship slow.

Now I go back to my question about is he really with her for sex?  I can see your argument for book one, but as their relationship moves into this new chapter post-school scandal in book two I can’t help but debate it again.  This time it’s Gabriel holding back and wanting to slow things down.  Wanting to prove to Julia that he’s in this relationship for the long haul and that sex wasn’t the glue holding them together.  I have to give him some respect there.

Kelly:  Is it sex, or is it control?  Gabriel essentially has control over when they have sex in the first place, though Julia is in agreement with the timing.  It’s so romantic, after all, to lose one’s virginity in Italy rather than Canada.  Later, when he returns and wants to restart their relationship, albeit without sex, it’s still about him deciding when they will have a sexual relationship.  Gabriel is in control of the situation insofar as he has more knowledge than Julia does.  If you look at their relationship as a power construct, Gabriel holds more power for a few reasons: 1. he’s older, 2. he’s Julia’s professor, 3. he has more sexual knowledge than Julia does, more awareness of himself and of her.

Kim: I felt that in book two Julia really held the keys to the kingdom.  He’s ready to just pick up being together again when he comes back from the school induced separation.  Julia won’t allow it though.  Gabriel wants her to meet him to talk and she won’t do it.  She clearly says to him that she’s moving on with her life, as hard as it is without him.  It’s when all this happens that he tells her that he wants to prove his worth to her and prove that their love is something special and worth saving.  She makes that boy work to get back in her good graces.  The sex thing isn’t him withholding for control, it’s him withholding to show her that he can control himself and is worth taking a second chance on.  He’s trying to prove he’s in it for the long haul.

Kelly:  Well, not having read Rapture, I’ll have to agree with you.  🙂  I’ll revise my sex/control response to try to clarify what I mean about Gabriel just being with her for the sex.  I don’t think that’s it… I think it’s more about the intoxication of being with someone who is innocent.

Kim: That’s a PERFECT segue into the next thing we wanted to discuss.  The Twilight aspects of these novels! I had a more difficult time seeing the relationship, but Kelly didn’t! Take it away my friend!

Kelly: At about two hundred pages into the book, I asked Kim if this was some sort of half-cocked 50 Shades fan fiction, because it seemed to me to be Twilight fan fiction twice removed with lots of unnecessary cursing thrown in for shits and giggles (you like that?), and she told me that she had lately discovered that it is Twilight fan fiction.  I can totally see the Twilight fan fic tie-ins, but this book is fan fic of New Moon (except that Edward/Gabriel has drug-induced amnesia), not the first Twilight novel.  That means that emotionally, the reader jumps into a story that is full of unexplained melodrama (melodrama FOR DAYS).  You meet Julia and Gabriel, and Julia feels SO MUCH (too much, I thought).  She recognizes Gabriel in all his symmetrical splendor, and she keeps waiting for him to recognize her.  But he doesn’t   She’s going through all the Bella “OMG, he totally left me, and now I, like, totally can’t survive!” crap, but Gabriel’s right there, and we (readers) just met both of them and have NO IDEA what in the hell all this high drama and emotion is all about.  The first two hundred pages of the book were full of WTFery, to me, because I couldn’t figure out what in the hell these characters were feeling towards each other, and I also couldn’t figure out why in the hell I should care about their drama.

Kim: I can DEFINITELY see the New Moon plot line in Rapture. And the whole Bella/Edward obsessive relationship is obvious.  But besides that the Twilight comparisons weren’t as clear to me as they were in say Fifty Shades.  

Kelly:  OK, there’s the intense first meeting.  Gabriel is soooo angry, and Julia (and the reader) has no idea why.  To me, that was immediately reminiscent of Edward’s “I think I want to kill you” meeting with Bella.  There’s the well-meaning but slightly creepy friend, Paul.  (As an aside, I can hang with the Team Jacob stuff, because Jacob is kind of funny in the books, but no one is going to be on Team Paul.)  Gabriel’s whole “I’m dangerous, I’m obsessed with lust, sins follow me around” thing has shades of “I’m no hero, I’m a bad guy, you should stay away from me for your own good” Edward nonsense.

Kim: If a Team Paul ever showed up, I think I’d cry.

Kelly:  I would wear a Team Paul in irony.  No one would understand.

Kim: HA. Promise me you will never sell Team Paul shirts. I’ll accept one person’s irony. I can’t handle two.

Kelly:  I promise.  🙂

Kim: Excellent. I’m holding you to it.  So now before we sign off on these books I had one more thing I wanted to discuss – Dante.  So a big discussion point within the novel is Dante and his works.  A lot is referenced in regards to the relationship between Dante and Beatrice.  Now prior to reading Inferno and Rapture I had never read anything by Dante.  Just reading these novels and reading the Dante discussions within the book made me go out and buy The Divine Comedy.  I’m curious to learn more about the relationship between the poet and his real life muse Beatrice.  Did you become curious about them too, or is it just me? Much has been said (negatively) about the views of Dante and his works discussed in Inferno and Rapture.  Personally my stance has always been, if someone says something that makes you curious to do further reading, then it was a worthwhile thing to say. What do you think, Kelly?

Kelly: I read The Divine Comedy in high school and again after college. (I totally did not understand it the first time around… Not sure I quite got it the second time, either, but at least I got the impulse to read it out of my system.)  I don’t have a general problem with the Dante discussions in this book, but only one of them really had an obvious tie-in to the story or characters and was, somewhat predictably, the only Dante discussion that I enjoyed.  In case you’re interested, the Dante discussion that I enjoyed was the argument Gabriel and Julia have in class about whether or not Beatrice was just a bitch leading Dante on (and whether or not Dante was just an asshole).  For the rest of it, I was like, “Dante… *yawn*…” because if I was supposed to care about Gabriel and Julia and whether they would ever work out their issues or whether they would ever have sex (because that’s actually the point of the book, with the whole of Gabriel’s Inferno leading up to Julia’s deflowering), the Dante lectures were a bit distracting.  I thought the author could not quite decide whether to write an academic work about Dante, a young adult Twilight fan fic story, a romance novel, or an erotica novel, and she just decided to combine all her working drafts into one giant story that pretty much represents the worst of all four worlds.  (Well, to be fair, I’m sure she didn’t intend for it to be that bad… it just is.)

Kim: HAHA – You have a way with words my friend.  I think we’ve gotten our different viewpoints off fairly well for everyone.  I hope that whether you chose to read the books or not, you jump in on our discussion! We’re always down for talking with other book lovers!

Kim’s Rating: Inferno 3 out of 5 Stars, Rapture 3 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: Inferno 1.5 out of 5 stars Rapture (didn’t read it, because I took the earliest exit off this crazy train.)

Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard
Penguin Group (2012)
Paperback: 560 pages
ISBN: 9781101614785

Gabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard
Penguin Group (2012)
Paperback: 432 pages
ISBN: 9781101614778