Top critical review
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"There were words for women like her... Women who asked for more than had been allotted to them."
on 29 September 2011
I hesitated when deciding on a star rating for this book. When it's good, it's very very good; Donaghue really can write. Anne Damer is the most interesting character, and the story was strongest when focused on her. Rumours of "sapphism" plague her, although she swears there is no truth in them. And yet, her warm friendships with women are tinged with jealousy, while she recoils from romantic or matrimonial entanglements with men. How long, the reader wonders, can she continue to deny her own nature, even to herself?
The other main characters are Eliza and Derby. Derby's devotion and Eliza's insistence on keeping her virtue (Derby is still legally married, although long separated from his wife) seem touching at first. However, when Eliza tells Anne that she thinks Derby "a silly man", I lost patience with her and wished for the interminable courtship to end.
The political background (the madness of King George, the French revolution) provides an interesting backdrop, but too much of it is background noise. Politicians and aristocrats walk on and off, seeming interchangeable (apart from some colourful souls like Walpole and Lady Georgiana). Far too many events are described second-hand or were only tangentially related to the overall plot.
If the book focused more on the personal relationships, and tried less to cram in a history lesson, I would have given a 4 or 5 star.