This is not, I’m afraid, going to be a review. I tried my best, but I cannot review this book. How would you review a pleasant day of June? How would you analyse the sunlight that warms your cheeks, or the faint breeze that keeps the temperature on exactly the right side of warm? Would you compare and contrast the clear blue sky and the fresh green of the lawn? Could you come up with something clever and incisive to say about the lazy, dreamy mood that overtakes you as you’re dozing off, smiling, in your wicker chair?
A Little Folly is that pleasant day of June.
Let’s quote the beginning, as an example:
Sir Clement Carnell’s ruling passion, until the very last moment of his life, was his passion for ruling.
In other times and circumstances he might have made a fine king of the absolute and despotic sort, bringing troublesome provinces to order, crushing rebels under his chariot wheels, and inscribing on a giant column his exact and fearsome laws. Being, however, only a country gentleman of Devonshire, he had to make do with tyrannizing his wife and children.
He had married late; not through any lack of eligibility on his own part, for he possessed a good estate, and was impressive, even handsome in looks. Marital candidates there had been, but all had exhibited some deplorable shortcoming, such as a mild independence of mind, or a wish to have their feelings occasionally considered, which had rendered them unacceptable to a man of Sir Clement’s character. The bride he at last chose was much younger than he, and sufficiently impressionable to mistake the awe she felt for him as love. She liked, as she said, a man to be masterful. The best that could be said for the unhappy consequences of her choice was that she had not long to endure them. She died less than ten years after her marriage, having presented Sir Clement with two children, and having her opinion of herself so thoroughly lowered, degraded and trampled by her husband that her dying regrets at leaving her little boy and girl were almost overcome by the conviction that they would be better off without her.
I think this ‘review’ can be summarised in one question: would you read on, on the basis of this beginning? If not, this is probably not the book for you. If so, I’m quite sure you won’t be disappointed.
This odious Sir Clement quite fortunately dies, and his two children – Louisa and Valentine Carnell – are left, in their early twenties, not quite sure what to do with their new freedom; knowing only that they’re both eager to take on ‘the enterprise of living’ at last. Their estranged and charming cousins come to assist them with that, and so London society of 1813 beckons. Valentine develops an unseemly admiration for the married and mysterious Lady Harriet Eversholt, but it is Louisa – her development as a character, as well as her romantic possibilities – who is the real focus of the novel. And what a charming heroine she is! Likeable, but not perfect; sensible, but with her own modest share of youthful folly.
Having previously enjoyed An Accomplished Woman, I once described Morgan (lazily, I must admit) as being ‘like Georgette Heyer, but without the exclamation points’. This isn’t quite accurate; Heyer has more than a touch of Wodehouse, more than a dash of farce, and her universe is painted in bolder colours, with sillier humour, more glitter and extravagance, broad-shouldered men whose lips curl sardonically, abundant noble titles – and those exclamation points! One is tempted to say that Morgan has more in common with Austen – and I do think there is a strong undercurrent of Emma, in particular, in both A Little Folly and An Accomplished Woman – but that’s a lazy comparison and not quite fair, either. To be sure, Morgan shares a similarly ironic and sensible tone, but his wry style is all his own. And very, very charming.
Poor Kate! was Louisa’s thought. If she still entertained hopes, this must end them. To excite in a man a violent loathing was, as any novel-reader knew, to stand in a fair light of winning him at last; but no woman could ever recover from the humiliation of being respected.
The dialogue (which carries the novel) is splendid, and the characters both true to life and true to the period, as I see it; I generally find it difficult to read any historical novels, as I’m much too unforgiving of anything that might possibly be interpreted as an anachronism or a faux pas, but here, such moments are so few and far between that I’m not sure they were even there. (I may simply have made them up, in a desperate effort to come up with something to criticise.) Refreshingly, the love story doesn’t bend over backwards to cater to romantic fantasy or modern sensibilities, and the romantic dénouement happens gradually. It feels real. This is probably not, however, the right book for someone who looks for a great deal of impetuous passion in romance: it’s more of a book for an Elinor than a Marianne.
I’m not usually a romance reader, not because I consider the romance genre to be beneath my lofty self, and not because I can’t turn off the cynical/sarcastic side of my brain, but because I’m afraid of the potential frustration and disappointment. In love stories, I’m too easily irritated by false notes, unconvincing epiphanies, and happy endings that are too dearly bought.
I’m also a bit of a dunce when it comes to the emotional side of things, and like to know who to root for. Predictability in romance is fine by me; in fact, it’s what I expect. There are few things I hate more than a love story that flags itself as a frothy piece of romantic entertainment and then springs a surprise on you: ‘SURPRISE!!! THE MAN YOU THOUGHT OF AS THE HERO IS ACTUALLY A JERK OF THE HIGHEST ORDER!!! HE ISN’T A NICE AND SENSITIVE PERSON AT ALL, AS IS DEMONSTRATED BY THE FACT THAT HE SEDUCED AUNT ARABELLA’S LOVELY IMPOVERISHED COUSIN AND ABANDONED HER IN BRIGHTON WHEN SHE WAS SIX MONTHS PREGNANT!!! THE REAL HERO IS HIS INSIPID SIDEKICK WHO’S BEEN UNBEARABLY RUDE FOR 300 PAGES, BUT TRUST ME, HE’S REALLY A DECENT MAN AND HE’S ONLY RUDE BECAUSE HE LOVES LADY JEMIMA APPLECORE SO MUCH AND DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO EXPRESS HIS FEELINGS!!!’
But this is no problem with Morgan, though his romance is not predictable. (At least by my standards: I’m not a particularly sharp observer, you know.) It may be unclear where he’s taking me, but I trust he’s going to give me the right ending, and that’s exactly what he delivers.
Do I sound like a fangirl? Why yes, I do, because I don’t hesitate to declare myself as one. Envious, perhaps, as Morgan is writing the novels I’d like to be writing myself; but an unabashed fangirl, all the same. I can only hope he is hard at work writing a new novel in the same vein, and a new one after that, as I won’t be content until my Morgan collection equals my Heyer one, both standing proudly side by side in the same bookcase.
Headline Review, 2010, paperback edition. 416 pp. ISBN: 0755307674