24/02/2009

Cousin Kate (by Georgette Heyer)

I'm a huge fan of Georgette Heyer. I started reading her books when I was in my late teens, and over the years have collected just about all her historical novels, as well as some of her detective fiction. I re-read them all every few years; the 'regency romance' ones are probably my favourite comfort reading.

Having said that, 'Cousin Kate' is one of my least favourite of Georgette Heyer's historical fiction novels. It starts well. The main character, Kate, is a likeable girl; she's a typical courageous and confident Heyer heroine, despite being destitute, and has a delightful and loyal old nurse, Sarah, always willing to come to her rescue.

The problem is that Heyer introduces two extremely unpleasant characters, Kate's Aunt Minerva, who comes - apparently - to her rescue, and Minerva's son Torquil who is totally spoilt, very bad tempered, and sometimes violent. They're not just minor caricatures in the book, but well developed people who form a significant part of the book.

Heyer has an incredible gift of characterisation for her main protagonists, usually with giving them a few faults to make them more human. She also sometimes manages to produce some lovable villains with a touch of humour or a pleasant side. But these two unlikeable people seem to have no redeeming features - despite, at first, seeming friendly and affectionate.

There's more violence than I like in this book too, and a melodramatic ending which I had totally forgotten about in the twelve or more years since I last read it. I can see that it tidied everything up neatly, but it didn't seem quite believable.

It's not bad writing, of course. The story itself is quite exciting, too, albeit full of what would now be considered politically incorrect comments about someone who turns out to be mentally unstable. Somehow, I suspect Heyer was experimenting with a rather different style of novel - this was written in her later years - and it didn't really work. At least, not for me.

Still, I shall probably re-read it yet again in another ten years or so...

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 24th February 2009

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