Sunday, September 26, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'Arabella'
Before I begin, a quick shout-out: a blogger, Casey, just did her very first non-Goodreads book review on a friend's blog! The book, A Child Is Missing, sounds very interesting and it's a great review. Check that out here! She now has a reviewing blog of her own here.
The Book: Arabella
The Author: Georgette Heyer
How I Found It: When I started looking into reading Heyer months back, this is the one whose description most intrigued me. This is also the first book I read for the Georgette Heyer challenge; my choices can be found here.
The Review: This review is ridiculously delayed; my apologies. I finished the book on the 14th, but schoolwork got in the way of my reviewing time, and the two books I've read since were both assigned. So with apologies for the lateness and the lapses it might cause in my memory, on to the review!
The time is Regency England, when a woman was sometimes expected to marry well in order to provide for her family. This is the greatest wish of Mrs. Tallant, mother of the titular Arabella--as Arabella has many brothers and sisters, it is Mrs. Tallant's hope that Arabella will marry well, enabling her to introduce her sisters into society and provide for her brothers' educations or military ambitions. Arabella is offered the chance to make her London debut, with her benevolent, well-off godmother, Lady Bridlington, by her side. The hope is that going through London's social circles will introduce Arabella to a marriageable man.
That plan, however, might be ruined, due to an impetuous lie by Arabella just before she reaches London. A carriage accident causes Arabella and her traveling companion to seek shelter at the hunting box of the local Nonpareil, Robert Beaumaris, and his friend Lord Fleetwood. When Arabella overhears Beaumaris' remark that Arabella seems to be just another girl going after his fortune, Arabella decides to stand up for herself in a most unusual way--by claiming she is an heiress! The lie was never meant to leave the confines of the hunting box, but as Arabella's season begins and she is thrown together with Beaumaris once more, she finds that she is the talk of the town, and that her lie might have ruined her prospects. Arabella's stay is further complicated by her own brother's first adventure into London, a chimney sweep named Jemmy, and an adorable stray dog named Ulysses, and the question of what her lie will lead to drives the reader on through this book.
I have to say, as long as it has taken me to write this review, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, once I got used to the Regency terminology and Heyer's writing style. While I've read Austen and others from the Regency period, I've never actually read a modern-day Regency, and I'm glad I started with this one. While at first it seemed a little too fluffy for my tastes, I was genuinely happy with it by the end and really wanted to see how it would all work out. My first time reading Heyer was a thoroughly pleasurable experience.
To start with, the two main characters, Arabella and Beaumaris, were fun, funny, and even somewhat reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth and Darcy. That sometimes did grate on my enjoyment of the novel--certain exchanges reminded me a little too much of P&P--but it also made the book seem more familiar and accessible. I particularly enjoyed the growth of Beaumaris' character--though he seems to want, at first, to play a little with Arabella's lie and see what it can lead to, he grows into a genuinely likable man, mostly because of his interactions with Ulysses, the stray dog. Those scenes were just adorable and I liked how Heyer personified the animal and made him a genuine confidant for Beaumaris.
One criticism I had was the characterization of Arabella herself--she is a teensy bit too perfect, given that her only stated fault is the impetuousity that leads her to lie. And we are never quite sure what, exactly, leads Beaumaris to be attracted to her, only that he wishes to see what her lie can make her do. So while I genuinely felt the attraction between them at the end, what lead up to that attraction seemed a little murky.
The secondary characters were also fun to read about, though most are somewhat underdeveloped. Lady Bridlington is little more than the kind godmother, and her son, Mr. Epworth, reminded me of a sort of Mr. Collins-esque character (also from P&P). Arabella's brother Bertram becomes a more central figure as time goes on, and while his plot was somewhat cliched (going into debt due to excessive gambling), it gave a sense of tension to the plot and led to an unexpected but pleasing development in Arabella and Beaumaris' relationship, so I couldn't complain.
I did have occasional difficulties with the terminology of the time and some excessively wordy sentences, but by the end of the book, I had a pretty good feel of what was what and how to get through the language. I'm very much considering buying a recently-released guide to the Regency world of Austen and Heyer, since reading this made me realize how much I didn't know and would like to know about the period. The research, which Heyer is known for, really did show through in every aspect--fashion, transport, education, military, job-wise.
Overall, I really did have a great experience with this book, and my misgivings at the beginning didn't last until the end. I am very much looking forward to reading Cotillion next month and any number of Heyers that I have lined up for the challenge and beyond. Many apologies for the lateness of this review; I hope that I can get up a few more before the month is over!