Saturday, September 11, 2010

Georgette Heyer

Cousin Kate

© Bodley Head 1968
Turned off from her job as a governess, Kate Malvern has no where to go except to the home of her old nurse, Sarah Nidd, a carrier's wife. When Kate declares her intentions of becoming a fashionable lady's maid or a dressmaker, Sarah is appalled. A young lady like Kate shouldn't have to go into trade, even if her father was a gamester soldier who left Kate with nothing. Urged on by her cantankerous, but kindly, father-in-law, Sarah writes to Kate's estranged aunt, Lady Broome. Kate's Aunt Minerva sweeps in and whisks Kate off to Staplewood for the summer. Aunt Minerva showers Kate with as many clothes and jewels as Kate could wish, yet her life at Staplewood is not what she expected. For starters, her aunt rules the household with an iron fist and won't let Kate help. Then there's her aunt's invalid husband, Sir Timothy, who rarely ventures out of his rooms in an entirely separate wing in the house. Then there's her volatile cousin Torquin, nineteen and behaving like a sulky schoolboy. He also resides an a separate wing of the house and is prone to migraines. Finally, there's Torquin's cousin and perceived enemy, Philip Broome who at first dislikes Kate and then becomes a trusted ally and friend as Kate realizes that all is not well at Staplewood.

This is a Greek Tragedy (or Gothic novel) Regency Romance style. Heyer departs from her usual witty comedies to weave together a tale of ambition, wills, power and mental instability. Kate is a lively, intelligent heroine, typical of Heyer's older heroines. I really like her and admire her for sticking to her plans to stay, yet I find her terribly naive not to realize what was amiss a lot sooner. Her relationship with the hero progresses gradually and barely into the romance category - more than in The Unknown Ajax, less than Heyer's comedies. The plot is very dark and tragic and full of entirely hateful characters, including Sir Timothy, who loses my respect on the last page. I couldn't really get into this one but yet I had to know how it would all come about happily for Kate. If you're looking for sunshine, flirtations, or witty banter, look elsewhere. This is my least favorite of Heyer's novels. This is also not a good book for Heyer neophytes to begin with because it contains excessive slang that even I find difficult to understand.

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