I have to admit that, with the exception of joyfully breezing through Jane Austen, I generally find 18th-century novels hardgoing. However, Emma Donoghue has succeeded in writing a convincing 18th-century novel while maintaining a deftness of touch to engage the 21st-century reader.
While by no means simple, the plot narrative is striking in its clarity to ensure that a deep understanding of 18th-century politics is not a pre-requisite. It educates and informs without obstructing the story, and I felt more than a little smug after reading it that I could excuse the hours I spent immersed in the book has left me with an improved education.
Donoghue should be particularly congratulated also for her excellence in drawing the frisson between Derby and Eliza, especially in the opening chapters. Even in the comparatively loose society we inhabit today, one is all more than aware of the awkwardness that is caused by a mis-judged move for romance, especially in a group of mutual friends and acquaintances. The scenes such as Mrs. Dramer's dinner following a first move by Derby felt deliciously voyeuristic as I could feel and see the atmosphere caused by his discomfort.
The characterisation is underpinned by a cynical sense of humour about class and appearances that are as true today as they were 200+ years ago. Donoghue at times seems to judge her characters from 21st-century standards of what is hypocrisy and hence the line between pastiche and parody sometimes appears to come into view. Regardless of this, it is the best book I have read so far in 2007 out of a total of two and will remain at the top of my favourites list for some time.
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