The topic of this month is Historical
Genre: Historical Romance
/ Victorian times
My Rating: 4 stars
In September we have to look for a historical novel.
I bought this book with Your Wicked Heart, as I enjoyed a lot the two books written by Meredith Duran that I read for my AAR Top 100 Challenge. But while I enjoyed This Wicked Heart, it was nothing special so I didn’t read That Scandalous Summer afterwards, and it languished in my TBR pile. When Fool Me Twice won the RITA in July, I wanted to read it so – I had to read this first. In the end, I read That Scandalous Summer and Fool Me Twice, back to back.
I enjoyed both of them. They are four-star books for me. But I preferred to review this one for my September TBR Challenge, as it’s a book that got none of the critical applause that Fool Me Twice got.
This is the story of Michael de Grey, a doctor with a hospital for poor people. As he’s noble, young, charming and very attractive, the ton just loves him. His brother, the duke of Marwick –the main character in Fool Me Twice- is desperate and a little bit crazy, so in this frame of mind he tells his brother that he has to marry a girl he can approve; otherwise, Michael will be left with no money and of course Alastair will close his beloved hospital.
Michael then leaves London, thinking that this way his brother will react and begin his recovery. He goes as far as Cornwall, where he will live as a rural doctor. One day he finds a very drunk lady in his rose bushes. It’s Elizabeth Chudderley, a famous beauty who is, more or less, ‘the lady of the manor’ in that place. This thing about a famous beauty reminded me of Evelyn Nesbit a women whose face was everywhere, in newspapers and magazines, and even in souvenir items, at the beginning of the 20th century, and inspired L. M. Montgomery the face of her beloved character Anne Greengables. So Liza had that face for me.
It’s lust at first sight. They flirt all the time, but when they know each other better, they also fall for the person inside. None of them say a word about certain things. Michael does not say that his brother is a duke and that he has no intention of staying in Cornwall more than a short time, until his brother comes to his senses. And Liza does not tell him that no matter what appearances can suggest, she’s broken and she needs money. So she’s trying to catch a rich husband.
Part of the suspense of the novel comes from those things they ignore about the other. But in the end knowing them does not change anything. Michael’s low income as a doctor is useless for Liza, because she needs money not only for herself but also–in a very medieval and paternalistic way- of those workers that depend on her.
It’s set mainly in Cornwall, and in Liza’s house, when there’s a party of scandalous socialites, as Liza herself. She hopes to find her rich second husband in that party. It’s not a very original setting but, at least, we are far from London, the Regency and ball rooms.
The most attractive part of this story was the emotional and sexual tension between Michael and Liza. The greatest eroticism lies in moments of little gestures –a touch, a kiss, a desperate embrace. But there’s also explicit sex in this novel, very emotionally charged, because they always think it’s the last one. First ‘let’s do it just once’; then, ‘this is the end, let’s make it just one time more’. And so on.
It’s particularly intriguing to see how their mental processes evolve. What they feel and think when they meet, about themselves and the other, and how those thoughts and feelings evolve.
Michael’s parents were an awful and embittered couple. Therefore, he thinks that marriage is the end of love – until he meets Liza. On the other hand, Liza had a perfect example of marital bliss in her parents, so she knows that happiness can exist in a married couple. But then she married and hers was not a happy marriage, and then she had a lover that was a jerk, and now, well, she needs money so love is not her number one priority.
Their problems are real, and they cannot be solved just by saying ‘I love you’. And you cannot forget the social aspect of the whole thing. A misalliance could damage not only the couple but all the family, as Cecilia Grant explained so beautifully in A Gentleman Undone. The conflict is so real, so well-constructed along the novel, that the way it is solved, in the end, in a vaudeville tone, is a little bit anticlimactic. I will say nothing more about it, because –spoiler.
This was a novel that I could not put down until I ended it. It was with me less than twenty four hours. The characters sounded very real to me. Liza was more interesting and complex. She has these financial problems and that awful lover to deal with. But I think there’s something more important for her to get over. Her mother died a year before the beginning of this novel, and Liza’s always hearing her in her mind, her mother judging what Liza’s doing with her life. Her sadness is shown in little details like Liza not being able to go to her mother’s grave.
I think this could have been a darker novel, because many issues are not explored, for instance, Liza’s previous unhappy marriage or her drinking problem. But the author prefers to give these two people a great capacity for joy and to enjoy life as it comes.
In her webpage, Meredith Duran says that this was the first book she had written
‘(I hesitantly admit) that actually made me both laugh and cry when proofreading various scenes in the copyedited manuscript’.
This is the Spanish translation I've read
Cover art: Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial/
Cover picture: © Malgorzata Maj / Trevillion Images
Yes, I was so involved in the emotions of the characters that there was a moment in which I got a lump in my throat, in a way quite close to the emotional reaction I have to certain Balogh’s books.
I’m not sure why this book didn’t get A grade reviews, as I liked it more that the rest of her books, but The Duke of Shadows. Certainly, I liked a little bit more than Fool Me Twice, for instance. I love character-driven stories when those characters interest me. And I’d rather read about a mature woman with a past than about feisty virgins.
I’ve read this book in a very good Spanish translation, not in English. The last three Duran’s translated books, Your Wicked Heart, That Scandalous Summer and Fool Me Twice have been published by a publishing house (belonging to the Peguin Random House Group) and a translator that respect the quality of Meredith Duran’s prose. We are lucky, then, because that did not happened with The Duke of Shadows or Bound by your Touch, that were published by a different set of publishing house and translator. They -how can I say this without offending anyone? -, they just did not do justice to Meredith Duran’s literary style.
So Meredith Duran is now a really auto-buy novelist for me. One author of the group that I label as ‘Newest Historical Novel’, besides people like Cecilia Grant, Courtney Milan or Rose Lerner. A group I define as opposed both to Old Skool (bodice rippers and alphaholes) and the New School of Julia Quinn, Tessa Dare and the likes, who are charming, light and completely void of any relation to the hardships of life.
NB I loved this book so much that I couldn’t wait and translated –more or less- my English review and posted the Spanish review before this TBR Challenge, in order for people to buy this book that they can still find in mortar & brick bookshops.