28/12/2011

The Reluctant Widow (by Georgette Heyer)

Georgette Heyer is unquestionably my favourite historical fiction writer. Her characterisations are always superb, her dialogue excellent, and entirely believable, and her plots well-crafted with satisfactory endings. I have most of her novels on my shelves, and re-read them regularly, any time I want something that I know I will enjoy.

Wanting some 'comfort' reading after Christmas, I picked up 'The Reluctant Widow', which I last read in 2005. Despite having read it at least four other times prior to that, I had only the most general recollection of the plot.

The main character is Elinor, a young lady from impoverished circumstances who (at the opening of the book) arrives in a village, by stagecoach, hoping to be met and taken to the home of Mrs Macclesfield, where she is to become a governess. She is not at all looking forward to this, but really has no other choice..

However, after being collected from the coach stop, she finds herself increasingly puzzled... and rather shocked when she realises that she is in the wrong household, where she is asked to do something entirely different from what she was expecting.

Elinor is a lively person, a typical Heyer heroine, who speaks her mind and has strong opinions... yet she finds herself oddly overpowered by the handsome Lord Carlyon. She considers him rude and unfeeling, yet his calm, rational manner convinces her to do something completely contrary to her wishes.

There is, unsurprisingly, plenty of clever dialogue, developing the characters of those concerned. I particularly liked Nicky, Carlyon's youngest brother, who takes great pleasure in dangerous situations, and rapidly becomes fast friends with Elinor. The plot is rather unlikely, yet somehow it seems quite believable while reading. There's some suspense - with more than a hint of Heyer's other skill at mystery-writing - and some satirical humour. There's also a very low-key romance, inevitable given the genre, but hardly even alluded to until the final pages.

Even reading this book for the fifth or sixth time, although some of the story came back to me, I had not remembered exactly who the villains of the piece were. So the climax of the story was as surprising as it probably was last time I read it.

This is not my favourite Heyer novel; there's perhaps too much action for my tastes. But I do think that it would make a good introduction to this author. It would particularly appeal to those who like a fair amount of action rather than the character-driven society novels with more focus on the romances that Heyer tended to write in later years.

'The Reluctant Widow' is one of Georgette Heyer's earlier novels, originally published in 1946. I'm delighted to see that, as well as being widely available second-hand, it is still in print in both the UK and USA. There are Kindle editions too.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 28th December 2011

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