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Historical, yes, but don't expect romance
on 27 November 2003
"Wideacre" is the first book in the Wideacre trilogy, which follows the fortunes of the Lacey family throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The titles of the books foretell the obssessions of the protagonists: in this case, the obssession is the estate of Wideacre in the title.
Beatrice Lacey is desperately in love with the Wideacre estate which belongs to her family, but as a female in the eighteenth century, she cannot inherit. Despite the fact she knows the land better than anyone, she must watch the estate go to her brother Harry, who has no idea how to run it. The realisation of this prompts Beatrice to start a desperate quest to secure her place on the land, no matter what. At first, everything goes according to plan: she becomes almost a goddess on Wideacre (Beatrice means 'she who blesses'), gets married to a man who understands her and seems to have everything. But secrets from her past start to surface, and Beatrice becomes more and more desperate, taking and taking until the estate is on the verge of ruin. Her joy in life (food and sex), in Wideacre and in horses disappears, and there is nothing left.
It's interesting to watch the other characters change and grow with Beatrice. Her brother goes from a gifted young boy to a portly, boorish squire; Celia, his wife, matures from a wallflower into a pious, determined, brave young woman, the angel to Beatrice's devil; and John, Beatrice's husband, goes through hell and back. Beatrice, however, is different.
"If that was the way of the world, then the world would have to change. I would never change."
She makes this vow at five years old, but she sticks to it. However, one of the themes of the novel is adaptation. If you do not adapt, then eventually you must die in some way or another: this happens to her father, her first love, her mother, and eventually to Beatrice and Harry. At the ending, the air is cleansed, but you can see that it's not over yet.
The language in this novel is sometimes lyrical and sometimes crude. Beatrice is a compelling character, but difficult to like. There are many themes in this book: what women must do in a man's world to survive; paganism and Christianity; body and mind. It's a powerful read, very sensuous and full of life, but not for the faint-hearted.