Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale

Why I read it:   
It's by Laura Kinsale. 'nuff said.

What it's about:  
"...Lady Callista Taillefaire [has been] jilted three times in spite of her fortune and her father’s best efforts to find her a husband. Now her greatest desire is to win the silver cup at the agricultural fair with her gigantic prize bull, Hubert. But when Callie’s only old flame returns from his long and mysterious absence in France, her quiet spinster life turns upside down. Dark-eyed, elegant and a magnet for trouble, Trevelyan d’Augustin has given Callie lessons in more than his language in the past. Her father put a harsh and humiliating end to any dreams of romance with a French √©migr√© scoundrel, however, and Callie never thought to see him again. Swallowing his pride, Trev has finally come home to care for his failing mother, but his secrets and misdeeds follow him.Callie soon remembers that nothing is ever peaceful with Trev around. The enormous Hubert vanishes into thin air, one of her former jilts comes back to woo her in a most determined manner—and her bull takes the town by storm! In the midst of these misadventures, Callie finds herself falling in love again with the worst possible man for her."

What worked for me:
In short, almost everything.  Laura Kinsale has a wonderful way with prose.   Like this:-
She stood silent turning the words over in her mind as if they were a strange device that she could not find the key to understand.
I enjoyed the humour of the book. It is sprinkled with litte gems like this one:-
If Major Sturgeon had not been strongly attracted to Mrs. Fowler, Callie would have feared he was coming on with some sort of condition.
I loved the banter between the characters, particularly Callie and Trev:-
"May I make you the object of my violent and unrestrained ardor?"  He made a motion as if to loosen his neckcloth.  "I'm a bit tired, but perfectly willing."
"My calling hours are from twelve to three, if you wish to importune me violently." Callie said, dropping a quick curtsey.
I liked Callie.  I liked how she was a bit clueless (Trev affectionately calls her a "pea-goose") but she wasn't stupid.  I identified with her displacement quite a bit and I guess that's why one of the things which bothered me (see below) bothered me so much.  I liked Trev too.  I enjoyed his efforts to turn himself around and I felt for his fear that he could never do so.  I liked watching Trev and Callie together and really enjoyed how he could effortlessly coax her into outrageous adventures.  I also liked Trev's protectiveness of Callie and her, even unconscious recognition of it.
 She came into his embrace suddenly and fully, making a thankful little sound, as if she'd been having a nightmare and awoken to find safety.
 I liked how Callie wasn't beautiful but Trev found her so.  I really identified with Callie's manner of dealing with difficulty by going into her own head and using fantasy/daydreams to imagine a better reality.  It's something I do myself and I suppose it is one of the reasons I love reading romance so much.  When I have been in hard times, I have lost myself in someone else's happy ending and found a way to get through.

What didn't (work for me):
 Warning:  This may be IS spoilerish. Read at your own peril!
As much as I enjoyed this book (and there is MUCH to love - don't be fooled by the length of this section!), there were things that bothered me.  It was never explained exactly why Major Sturgeon decided to return and court Callie - after all, he had been blackmailed away - what had changed?  There was an inference that he needed money, but that wasn't enough for me.  He could have courted another heiress one supposes.  Why Callie? Why then?

I also questioned why there was (apparently) no consequence to Trev's impersonation at the cattle fair - after all he and Callie were going to be living in the area.  Surely he would be recognised?

I understood the misunderstandings between Callie & Trev.  But, for someone who saw so well and easily into Callie, I was a bit suprised that Trev took so long to "get" that she felt so unlovable after being jilted 3 times.  I suppose though, that Trev was seeing this aspect of her through his own "Trev coloured glasses" so that probably explains it, on reflection.  The rest was exclusive of him, but for this part, he couldn't see past his own stuff.  So, not really a peeve after all.  Huh.

I also didn't quite understand Trev's mother's "miraculous" return to health in the epilogue.  It was too trite and it didn't need to be.  Trev's mother had been dying the whole book - I would not have felt betrayed if she had actually died and the epilogue had merely mentioned that they had had some sadness over that but that she had lived to see them married, etc.  I think that would have been better, IMHO.  

But the worst thing, for me, was the "explanation" in the epilogue as to the real reason Callie had been jilted 3 times.  These events had had a profound effect on Callie.  She was left feeling deficient and she could not escape those feelings, the knowledge of her jilts being so very public.  I could not accept the reason.  What a horrible thing to do to someone.  But, in the epilogue, it seemed brushed over, laughed about and then quickly forgiven/forgotten.  Frankly. that's not good enough.  Callie suffered for 7 or 8 years (depending on how long it was before her first betrothal after Trev left) and there was no guarantee the action taken would get the desired result.  All it was guaranteed to do was to humiliate Callie and leave her alone.  I'm sorry, that's just awful and I couldn't brush it off.  (Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, I feel much better!!).

Also, and this is a small peeve in the big scheme of things, I wanted more love scenes.  I counted only 2 (unless you count the flashback toward the beginning of the book, which I did not).  I wanted more!!

What else?
One of the things I enjoyed best about the book was the way Trev was with his mother.  Take this, for example:-
She smiled and spoke to him in English.  "You enjoyed the assembly?"
"Of course! I engaged myself to two beautiful young ladies and had to leave by the back window.  I've fled to you for aid.  Will you conceal me in your wardrobe?"
She gave a faint husky laugh. "Let the girls meet... on the field of honour," she said in a weak voice.  "Nothing to trouble about."
"But their mothers might pursue me!"
"Alors, I'll dispatch their mothers myself, by poison."
 He squeezed her hand.  "I see now where I come by my unsteady nature."

The little game they played was quite romantic (in the broader sense of the word) but not squicky.  In fact, there are quite a few "games" in this book.   Trev plays a game with his mother - they pretend he is a gallant roue flirting with her to cover the bigger pretense - they pretend that she is not dying.  Trev and Callie play games of adventure and they play at being a married couple at the cattle fair.  Trev and Callie also use playful banter where both say what is truly in their hearts but, disguised as it is as a game, it goes unrecognised.

Callie also plays a little game with Sturgeon at the cattle fair, but mainly she plays games with herself:-
Callie tried to make a daydream for herself.  It was what she always did when she could not quite bear what was real.
She had, of course, imagined a thousand times how she would accept the groveling change of heart from each of her suitors, starting with Trev.  He was to have written her passionate, brooding letters and declared that his life was forfeit if she would not have him.  That was after he had become unthinkably wealthy and recovered Monceaux. and declared on his knees that her fortune meant nothing to him and never had.  He would take her penniless from the side of the road and threaten to shoot himself, or sail to Madagascar and become a pirate - which was just the sort of thing Trev would do - if she refused his love.  After suitably ardent persuasion, she would reluctantly give up her plan to dedicate her life to good works and tapioca jelly, and accept his suit.  Afterward they would become pirates together and she would wear a great many pearls and rubies and skewer British officers.

Callie was, however, very careful not to daydream about actually being married to Trev even after he had proposed twice.  That was too real and too painful.  Better a game that was safely a game.

Given the overarching theme of the book, it was fitting that the denouement came at a masquerade ball.  

I had the impression that Callie and Trev would play many games together over the course of their lives - but only the fun and happy ones now.

There is something very special about reading a Kinsale book, the way the words are put together on the page, the characters, that it is a different book each time and not a rehash of the same story.  While this one is not my favourite (that would be Flowers from the Storm - I like the dark and angsty best), this one did not disappoint.  What kept it from being an A read for me was the explanation for Callie being jilted 3 times.  That didn't work for me and kind of took the tarnish off the story.

Grade B+