19/05/2005

The Reluctant Widow (by Georgette Heyer)

This is one of Georgette Heyer's earlier historical novels, first published in 1946 but - as with most of her books - still in print.

It's the story of Elinor, an impoverished young lady who is on her way to take up an appointment as governess. She is not looking forward to her job, but in previous centuries there were few other options open to an upper-class unmarried woman.

Unfortunately she gets into the wrong carriage, and finds herself instead marrying a rather unpleasant young man on his deathbed. This is rather against her better judgement, and as the novel proceeds she finds herself caught up with intrigue and danger. While not happy about this, she realises she is probably in better circumstances than she would have been, had she become a governess as planned.

The hero of the book is Lord Carylon, a rather domineering man who is nonetheless likeable and very intelligent. He admits to no sensibility at all - he uses logic and reason in all his suggestions, usually getting his own way without much conflict. He has two brothers who also play a large part in the story: the rather prosy John who works for the government, and the younger Nicky who has been sent down from University for playing practical jokes.

All in all this is a great read, with brilliant dialogue as ever in Heyer's work, an unlikely plot which seems all too believable while reading, and a satisfactory if somewhat surprising conclusion. There's some suspense, some humour, and a very low-key romance.

Not quite my favourite Heyer novel, but it's a fairly short book and would make a good introduction to this author. It would also probably appeal to those who like a fair amount of action rather than the character-driven society novels with more focus on the romance that Heyer tended to write in later years.

(You can also read my slightly longer review of 'The Reluctant Widow' after re-reading in 2011)

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