Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Servants are Always the First to Know....

Scandalous Lovers
By Robin Schone

Imagine waking up at 49 and finding yourself a single adult for the first time. What would you do? If you are Frances Hart, you might decide that after 34 years of marriage and three months as a widow, you were going to leave your five adult children and your eight grandchildren and journey to London and “experience a season of entertainment ... and amusement.”

Imagine instead that you are a very successful London barrister, a man who never loses a case, who has always neatly compartmentalized his life, and one day your wife of twenty-four years is killed in a carriage accident, and you realize that you never really knew her.
What would you do? If you are James Whitcox, you might realize that you have never truly known passionate love, that you and your wife had been strangers to each other while living beneath the same roof, and you might, in fact, need desperately to know the answer to a single question:

"What does a woman desire?”

So James asks Frances when she accidently walks into a meeting of the Men and Women’s Club, and her honesty astonishes them both. What ensues is a love affair that is also a voyage of self-discovery. The two had led fairly contented lives until the deaths of their respective spouses cause them to question what they may have been missing. Their search is not without ramifications, however, and every step they take away from their accepted roles ripples out to touch the people around them, and not everyone is pleased.
For a lady to cast off her mourning clothes and leave her home and family to indulge both intellectual and physical curiosity is unheard of; for a gentleman to encourage and abet is equally shocking. The two find unexpected allies in their various housekeepers, butlers, and clerks, who are very much privy to the inner workings of their employers’ lives, but opposition comes from an equally unexpected quarter.

James and Frances may seem like an unlikely hero and heroine for a romance novel, but author Robin Schone is not one to shy away from pushing the boundaries of the genre. She does not write about blushing virgins and dashing nobleman stealing kisses in the moonlight, but instead about the effects of love, lust, and repression in a time when marriages were often the means of forming business and political alliances. Adultery is not a subject treated sympathetically in romance, if it is addressed at all, yet Schone deals with it in a way that lends unexpected depth to two of her secondary characters and allows James to reveal a degree of self-knowledge and honest emotion that makes for one of the most touching scenes in the book. Schone also avoids any euphemistic purple prose when writing a love scene, opting instead for frank portrayals of two experienced adults falling passionately in love. The sex scenes in this book are not simply add-ons for the sake of titillation; they illustrate the emotional development of the characters as they learn about themselves and each other. I found the language a little formal and clinical, but it is appropriate to the characters and the time.

I can honestly say that this book was not what I expected when I picked it up, and at first I found myself skimming. As the story developed, I found myself more engrossed, and realized that what at first had seemed like some throwaway details were important clues in both plot and subplots. By skimming I missed nuance and so I went back and re-read.
I became invested in the characters and was really rooting for them. Schone tells a good love story, using small acts to demonstrate big themes. If you are looking for a quick, light historical, this is not your book; but if you have an interest in Victorian life and times, this tale of mid-life love will be very rewarding.

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