posts on 10/21/2005 12:07:21 AM
A book is interesting if the reader becomes emotionally involved in the story. The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger is a novel, rich in: color, character, and emotion. Certain aspects of this novel could use improvement; however, when closely examined, its lesson has timeless significance. Greed, wealth, and the drive for immortality, even combined, cannot rival the power or passion of the truest love. The Ruby Ring leaves much to be desired in the plot and resolution, but the setting and description of Rome are robustly developed.
The plot in The Ruby Ring has the potential of being an intricate weaving, but instead it is poorly constructed and has no resolution. It is categorized as a man verses man plot. The painter and main character, Raphael, is at odds at various times with several characters: Pope Leo, Cardinal Bibbiena, fellow artists, and the Roman upper class. The crux between characters is rivalry for wealth or self-preservation. In order to immortalize themselves the Pope, Cardinal Bibbiena, and rich upperclassmen hire Raphael to paint their homes, portraits, and churches. Raphael is caught between a rock and a hard place when he has too many commissions, and not enough time or inspiration to complete all of them. “The work was like that, a blinding and varied host of commissions with which even he, and a collection of vibrant, powerful assistants and apprentices, could barely keep pace…” (Haeger 71). The novel does not lack action, for
the social politics and devious exploits of the greedy Roman men keep the reader interested. The problem with the plot is that it is so inconsistent and poorly constructed
that it is impossible to say what the story is about or what the climax is. There are two scenes in the story that may be meant to be the climaxes. The first is when Raphael and his love, Margherita finally realize their affection and passion for each other. This seems to be an important part of the story because almost all of the trials focus on these two lovers and the challenge they find in being together. However, it is unclear if this is the climax because it takes place before the book is halfway finished; it is also too predictable because Margherita and Raphaels' first encounter is strong, detailed, and happens not twenty pages into the novel. “He moved a step nearer to her, desperate for her to feel the same sweeping power of inevitability that he felt” (Haeger 23-24). The second possible climax may be the one the author intended. Raphael discovers an ancient and precious ruby ring that he wishes to give to Margherita, but Cardinal Bibbiena sees the ring and insists that Raphael take it to the Pope. “Raphael felt his chest tighten, and an odd sense of dread begin to seize him. What could a man like Bibbiena want with yet another piece of jewelry?” (Haeger 184). If this is the climax it is, again, poorly fabricated. The scene is located almost exactly halfway through the book, and the incidence is inconsistently mentioned throughout the novel. The reader is never as attached to the antique item as Raphael is, so his obsession with getting the ring back is incomprehensible. Most importantly, this should not be the climax because it contradicts the central message of the book: love overcomes materialism and greed. If this discovery of a ring is more important than love, then materialism is not conquered in the novel. Later in the story, Margherita is kidnapped. This may be the most active part of the novel but it definitely a faux pas. This incident is not integral and it serves to exhaust and
confuse the reader in a waste of emotion over a single event. The end of the novel is even more disappointing than the lack of a good climax. The action and foreboding sorrow builds as Raphael becomes gravely ill and, shortly thereafter, dies. The story does
not end, but stops. There is no purpose reinforced, no message proclaimed, not even a shriek of despair or hope. Even more dissatisfying is that the final line in the epilogue is spoken by Cardinal Bibbiena, Raphael's nemesis. “At last things are as they should be. In time, my ring shall be returned to me, and the world shall forget there ever was a baker's daughter. It shall be as if La Fornarina never existed at all” (Haeger 365). The Ruby Ring is an interesting novel, but is dissatisfying and frustrating because of the plot and the ending.
A very important part of this novel is the setting of sixteenth century Rome. The action occurs from the years 1514 to 1520 when the extravagant and unwise Pope Leo is in his papacy. Diane Haeger describes scenes and setting with vivid and colorful detail. Even the temperature of day and mood can be felt through her description of light and atmosphere. “Dío, she was utterly breathtaking. The opalescent light behind her through the slatted shutters was like a halo, and the green velvet curtains on either side of her became and unintended framing device