Update! On July 5, Cheryl Sawyer dropped by and clarified her use of de rigueur in the comments and very politely pointed out that I was, in fact, talking out of my ass, for which I apologize. My statements about how stilted the book came across to me still stands, however.
Mark Twain once said that an author should “say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it,” and as far as a rule of writing goes, that’s a good ‘un to keep in mind. It certainly was what sprang to mind when I attempted to read Cheryl Sawyer’s The Code of Love recently.
Here’s the setup:
In 1810, some English soldier dude escaped from a Mauritian prison, but was betrayed, recaptured and brought back. Now, let’s play “spot the strange word usage” with me in this excerpt, hmmmm?
Only Delphine Delgaish knew who had betrayed him to the legion, and she told just one other person, so no one else knew what to think. Which made a visit to the Garden Prison de rigueur at the earliest opportunity.
That particular use of de rigueur stopped me cold and had me running for my dictionary. It was somehow proper etiquette—in fact, socially necessary—for a genteelly-raised unmarried young woman to visit a dangerous, recently-escaped prisoner of war? WHAT?
De rigueur carries very strong connotations, most of them pertaining to fashion and social etiquette, and any uses outside of these contexts are usually deeply ironic or meant to provide comic contrast (e.g., “Genital torture and ritual humiliation were de rigueur at Abu Ghraib”). In this particular book’s case, visiting a prisoner to find out what exactly had gone wrong was perhaps necessary, perhaps even vital, but unless the visit was an attempt to, I don’t know, ascertain the color of his breeches or inspect the state of his Hessians, nothing about it was by any means de rigueur.
The use of this phrase made the book come across as trying too damn hard—an impression that was sustained across what bits of the book I managed to read. It wasn’t necessarily F-grade bad, or even D-grade bad, but it was tedious as hell, and made for a very stilted read. After ramming through a few more pages, I decided to give up on it. For the bits I managed to read, I’d give it a D+. It may have improved later, but I honestly didn’t want to wade through the rest of it. It made me a very sad panda, because it seemed like such a waste of an interesting premise.