Monday, January 14, 2008

An Accomplished Woman

In the words of the wonderful Etta James, At last, my love has come along, My lonely days are overAnd life is like a song, Oh, yeah.

For the first time in months, I've found a wonderful historical romance that is a complete DIK (desert island keeper). I read An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan twice this weekend, and I'm looking forward to wrapping up my final read this evening.

Jude Morgan is the pseudonym of a writer called Tim Wilson who I've been following since he write a series of detective novels starting with The Complaint of the Dove, featuring a tutor, a rather shabby, down-at-heel gentleman called Robert Fairfax. I loved them, and then Hannah March morphed a few years ago into Jude Morgan, who wrote Passion, a very interesting take on the experiences of Mary Shelley, Augusta Leigh and Fanny Brawne, the women in Shelley, Byron and Keats's lives. Morgan also wrote a romance called Indiscretion which was good, but not fabulous. And now, for me, he's totally hit pay-dirt with An Accomplished Woman.

It may be the plethora of Austen adaptations floating about at the moment and other costume capers like Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford, but AAW just totally tapped into that world for me, and was a blissful read. While the situations/plot are famililar from Austen and Heyer (hints of Emma, Persuasion, The Black Sheep and Bath Tangle), the characters and voice are very richly Morgan's own, and the book is delightfully wry and droll and just plain funny - especially the Romantic young poet, Mr Beck, whose extract from his own longer poem published in his journal, The Interlocuter, is a complete LOL parody of high-flown Wordsworthian blank verse.

I found the heroine very likeable, she's someone I'd happily have as a friend. She is not a 'nice' woman, but she does her very best to behave with decency, honesty and integrity, and I found the way her story and backstory unfolded to be very compelling, and the hero is just right for her. She makes mistakes, she misreads situations, but she has good intentions and she stands up for herself in the face of intolerable bullying. The hero is very well-drawn also, and their final reconciliation is totally satisfying. (I'm not giving anything away here - this is a romance, the HEA is a given).

So what made this so different to The Spymaster's Lady? Well, TSL is just Grand Guignol, where AAW is set in a rich, vivid and entirely plausible world. There are no grand adventures, no plots, no conspiracies, no evil rapists. But there are wonderful gargoyle characters, like the beastly Mrs Vawser and the appalling Mrs Allardyce who are the essence of true evil, in their way, much more succesfully than any nasty potential torturing pervert. The whole book is character driven and all the tangles and untangling arise out of well-constructed, believable characters who behave not predictably but authentically. Jude Morgan is a beautiful writer - the novel is wonderfully well-crafted and he captures an authentically early 19th century mode of speech and letter-writing which is never laboured or forced, but also flows rather more easily for the scatty modern mind than Austen. And in this novel, he is really beginning to engage with the moral issues that enrich Austen's world as well.

I can't recommend this novel too highly. Go and get it.

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