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A Quiet Adjustment (Byron Trilogy 2) Paperback – 10 Jan 2008
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A Quiet Adjustment by Benjamin Markovits is a heart-rending novel of the infamous literary ménage à trois between Byron, his wife - and his sister.
Amid a swirl of parties and engagements, eligible bachelors and dazzling debutantes comes nineteen-year-old Lady Annabella Milbanke, already well versed in London social life in the early nineteenth century. Then, an invitation to a post-breakfast waltzing party arrives. Lord Byron's presence at the party both excites and appalls, and amongst his admirers, Annabella notices his partial relation - his sister - Augusta Leigh. It is these three characters that form the extraordinary menage a trois at the heart of this remarkably elegant novel. Written with enormous passion and sympathetic understanding for the complex passions at the heart of Byron's personality, "A Quiet Adjustment" dramatises the rise and fall of a famous literary romance and the relationship in its shadow.See all Product description
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Markovits has an unusual writing style - it has a kind of period style with a more modern intellectual twist, which I suppose is probably intentional given the subject matter. It's quite compelling and his books, including this one, are beautifully written. Even if I do sometimes get slightly tired of his 'habit' (ha ha, I couldn't resist demonstrating it) of putting random words in single quotation marks!
All in all, a very compelling story about Byron's wife - and, more importantly, about love, family, friendship, marriage and love triangles and a bit of madness thrown in for good measure. Annabella is a beautifully drawn character - intelligent and prone to self-reflection, yet also easy to sympathise with because her quirks and flaws make her endearingly human. The whole plot plays out against a background of celebrity, social intrigue and politicking, as Annabella's marriage falters as she comes to terms with an unusual, incestuous love triangle and tries to make the best of a difficult situation - with mixed results and no small measure of heartbreak.
Like the first book in the trilogy, Imposture, this novel also has some interesting comments to make about fame and celebrity culture - I'd bet good money that this book will be as fascinating for avid Heat gossip column readers as it is for literary-minded Byron enthusiasts!
I don't know whether this was a deliberate decision on the part of the author given the usual flamboyany mythologising about Byron, but if so it failed utterly for me. What we were left with is a dry, repressed and almost scientific series of events told from the viewpoint of Annabella Milbanke, the ill-fated wife of Byron who suffered her marriage to be destroyed (if it were ever started?) by Byron's semi-incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta.
There is no atmosphere in this novel, no coming to life of any of the characters, not even Caroline Lamb (of 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' fame). It's like watching a play through a thick pane of glass: we can see and hear what people say but it's all distorted and distanced, completely separated from us so that we cannot empathise, sympathise or even connect.
The author also has an incredibly irritating habit of putting words in quotation marks for no particular reason ("he had been 'imported' by Lady Caroline 'for the season'. Herr W spotted in Annabella 'an ally' " p.8) which given there was nothing else to hold my interest, became a bigger and bigger problem.
I adore Byron, both his poetry and his letters, and was really looking forward to this book, but was very, very disappointed.
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