Saturday, June 2, 2012
Author: Julianne Donaldson
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Softbound copy
Books I've read this year: 69
A few weeks ago I was walking through the Deseret Book at the Gateway with my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law. My sister-in-law was visiting from Miami and said she needed something light and fun to read, and asked if I had any recommendations. While I was singing the praises of Maisie Dobbs, she pointed at a book on a shelf near us and asked, "Do you think this one is any good?"
My mother-in-law said that she'd heard quite a bit of buzz about Edenbrooke, and I figured that I might as well get started reading it, since it was fairly likely to end up as a Whitney Finalist. So I bought it. Now you have to recognize that this is a significant moment in my life. It might just be the first time that I bought a romance novel when I wasn't compelled to do so for a review or a school project or the Whitney contest (okay, I take that back, I did freely buy Moriah Jovan's books last year, but this is the first romance novel I bought without a prurient interest in what I'd find between the jackets).
Anyway, Edenbrooke is a nice, sweet, well-written, inoffensive Regency romance. The protagonist, Marianne, has spent the last year in Bath with her cranky grandmother, while her more beautiful, more interesting twin sister, Cecily, wowed the London social scene. When Marianne, who like most good romantic heroines, hates needlepoint and loves to twirl, is summoned to Edenbrooke, the home of her dead mother's best friend, she falls hard for Phillip, the heir. But is Phillip playing games with her? Doesn't she need to give Cecily the first shot at him? Can she please her grandmother enough to retain her promised inheritance and still be true to herself?
Donaldson does a great job showing Marianne's inner struggles. She has a real gift for expressing the tension and longing Marianne feels as she falls in love with Phillip. I remember feeling much the same way at the same age. But the book was also somewhat problematic for me as a feminist reader. First of all, Marianne's grandmother announces early in the novel that she plans to change her will so Marianne can inherit the family fortune instead of a ne'er do well male cousin. I think this would have been a fairly revolutionary move in the Regency period, but Donaldson doesn't seem to remark much on it, which is interesting since Marianne and Cecily and the other girls in the novel recognize how little power they have-- they need to look pretty and talk sweetly to get men interested in them, and once they do that they will be taken care of. I think Donaldson could have explored these tensions more fully.
And then there's the book jacket-- which seems to underscore these same gender issues. The back jacket has three quotes-- all from the wives of authors. For some reason, this really, really bugged me. Is Brandon Mull's wife qualified to make a jacket quote because she's married to an author? Does she have her own qualifications? It felt a little ironic that these women are quoted not for their own accomplishments, but for those of their husbands. Does Marianne stand a chance to be seen for her own merits, or will she always be viewed through the lens of being Sir Phillip's wife?