Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Indiscretion, by Jude Morgan

I read Indiscretion in one sitting and enjoyed it immensely. Partly because I had absolutely no expectations approaching it and partly because it was light, witty, smart and entertaining. What more could I ask of it?

Caroline Fortune has had an unconventional upbringing in the shadow of her rakish, unreliable father - a dandy, soldier, actor in one incorrigible bundle. Dodging debt-collectors and making do with less than desirable accommodations is second nature to her. So when her father confesses to losing every thing he owns, she determines to make her own way.

But Captain Fortune finds her an eminently suitable position - companion to the childless, fearsome and formidably rich Mrs Catling. They remove to Brighton, where the first part of the story takes place. There, Caro enjoys polite society and befriends Mrs Catling’s young relatives - Matthew and Maria Downey, and their good friend the elegant Mr Leabrook. Beautiful, pleasant and well bred, Caro is attracts plenty of attention in Brighton - but not all of it is welcome. Her time there comes to a climactic end with a dishonourable proposition and a personal tragedy.

From there, the story shifts to a small parish in Huntingdonshire, where Caroline moves in with her mother’s relatives and attempts to adjust to country life. In particular, she befriends beautiful and gentle Miss Isabella Milner and makes the acquaintance of her provoking brother Stephen. But trouble is soon to catch up with Caro and the story descends into a good natured comedy of manners as the past and present collide in a witty, Heyer-esque romp through regency England.

That’s the bare bones of the story. What I loved above all was the easy, flowing language, peppered with witty asides and a cast of characters - caricatures, certainly - that stayed true to themselves. Caro was a delight. Mature, composed and practical, there might have been an element of the dreaded Mary-Sue about her, but I cheerfully ignored it. Her reactions and feelings always felt true and real. When she is propositioned by a gentleman her response was so right, so what I thought a woman in her situation might feel I actually nodded approvingly to myself....
... she had been put in such a situation that no usual emotions seemed appropriate. There was anger, indignation, humiliation - yet none in a strong enough measure to be purgative. Her sense of self had been dealt the severest blow. If... had seen her as fair game, then was that how she habitually appeared? Did she bear some Cain-like mark that incited the adventurer, that roused the rake? Nonsense, said Reason: as well say the fox invites the hounds. But Reason’s voice could not always be heard above the clamour of self-doubt, especially when she fell into a melancholy wondering whether this kind of offer - the kind that was hardly distinguishable from an insult - was the best she could ever hope for.
Other great things - the dialogue. In particular, I loved the banter between Stepehn Milner and Caro. Behold -
“You are very silent, Miss Fortune.”
“Oh - I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be: I consider it a promising development.”
“Indeed: perhaps you can consider something else while you are about it, and that is how it is possible to be very silent , when silence is an absolute. You would not say that I was very perfect, would you?”
“No,” he said gravely, “I certainly would not say that.”
Jude Morgan writes with wit and assurance, and the story trips along lightly and irreverently. I know some reviewers fold down the pages of passages they find particularly repugnant: I do the opposite and, at last count, I had 14 pages marked for repeat reading. There are times when the characters and situations felt very familiar - oh, here’s Lydia Bennett, I thought. This must be Mr Collins. This guy is totally Col. Brandon... but what the hell. I liked it anyway. I liked it enough to order Morgan’s next book (sounds very much like Bath Tangle...)

I discovered after reading the book that Jude Morgan is in fact a man. I have no idea why I found this so surprising, except that most romances I read a written by women. I had no inkling until I went on-line and read the author bio. The book itself gave nothing away, but I am left wondering if my bemusement reveals a certain prejudice about men and romance.

Overall, a grade A from me.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Two Unexpected Pleasures

Although I have stuck ‘librarian’ on my profile I don’t physically work in libraries any longer, although I do work for them. As a result, the amount of time I spend there has dropped quite significantly, not least because I now prefer to buy my books. Last week, however, I found myself in a number of libraries for extended periods of time and discovered two excellent novels whilst browsing the shelves.

This is noteworthy because:

  1. I can’t remember the last time I came across a book like this. (It’s so old fashioned!) These days, I visit my favourite blogs/ review sites and pick up recommendations from reviewers I trust. I just don’t have the time to read books that merely sound promising - see monstrous and growing TBR pile. I need a little more insurance.
  2. I don’t visit libraries much, as mentioned, and since I tend to bulk buy online, I don’t really visit bookshops either. Thus, the simple pleasure of browsing rows and rows of bookshelves at my leisure has been lost to me. And it is a pleasure. I found some of my favourite reads completely by chance - the innocuous, clothbound I Capture the Castle, Regency Buck (my first Heyer), Little Women, Jo Goodman's My Reckless Heart etc

Anyway, browsing through the shelves last week I found
Indiscretion by Jude Morgan, a book I immediately began to read and finished the same evening. And then a few days later, Bareback by Kit Whitfield. I haven’t read this yet, but the first chapter was incredible.

All of which may sound very mundane, but it brought home the sad truth of my reading habits and how stale the whole process has become. Perhaps my ever-growing tbr pile, and my inability to confront it, has something to do with the lack of spontaneity and risk involved in my choices.

Reviews to follow.