Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: False Colours by Georgette Heyer

I have been reading romances since I was 10 or 12 years old. I fell in love with Jane Austen the first time I opened the pages of Pride and Prejudice. And yet, it wasn’t until recently that I opened, read, and enjoyed my first Georgette Heyer novel, despite the fact that Heyer is widely considered a worthy successor to Austen. But after my first Heyer, I was glad to know I hadn’t yet read much of her works because it meant that I still had that much enjoyment ahead of me. False Colours is the third work I’ve read and although it didn’t entertain me as much as my previous two novels did, it still had the authenticity, attention to detail, and that indefinable something that characterizes Heyer’s works.

Borrowing a successful plot contrivance from great writers before her, False Colours has a masquerade or false identity plot. Kit and Evelyn are twins and as close to physically identical as can be. So when Evelyn is missing on the very eve of a party to introduce him to the family of the woman he hopes to marry, Kit reluctantly gives in to his flighty and charmingly capricious mother’s insistence that he impersonate his elder brother, the Earl of Denville. After all, the masquerade is only to last one evening and only for the purpose of convincing Cressy’s intimidating and opinionated grandmother to give her blessing to their marriage. But Evelyn doesn’t return the following day and despite Kit’s best efforts to remain out of Cressy and her grandmother’s way so that they don’t discover the hoax pulled over on them, his mother agrees to host them at a small house party on Evelyn’s country estate. Kit and Cressy are thrown together with great regularity and start building a happy rapport. Yet Kit cannot tell her his real identity and so things bumble along in an almost Shakespearean comedy sort of way towards the denouement.

While the depiction of the times and social mores is as perfect as ever, the language, even for a reader familiar with much Regency-set fiction, is rife with unfamiliar slang and coloquiallisms. This might not be as large a problem as it is except that the bulk of the book is dialogue between Kit and Lady Denville, robbing the reader of many context clues. Lady Denville, Kit’s mother, as a character, is absurd and cheerily profligate, even in the face of ruin. She is depicted as a doting mother and yet she is unconcerned that her debts, the ones she is doing her utmost to ignore or forget, are going to force her eldest son into a loveless marriage of convenience so that he can end the trust in which his fortune is held. And she is unbothered by the tenuous, rather dicey situation in which she’s placed Kit, the potential heartbreak which it will cause both Kit and Cressy. It’s an inconsistency of character that Heyer doesn’t generally make. The plot is rather more drawn out than it needs to be and it is lacking in the tension that would keep the reader eagerly turning the pages given that both Kit and Lady Denville are spectacularly unconcerned by Evelyn’s prolonged and continued absence. There are moments of humor here but the weakness of the story otherwise overshadows them. This is not a bad book, it just isn’t everything Heyer is capable of and readers unfamiliar with her oeuvre might want to start elsewhere, perhaps with the enchanting caper that is The Grand Sophy (my own personal favorite so far).

1 comment:

  1. There are definitely first string, second string, and third string Heyers (although we don't all agree on which goes where). And many of her characters do have giant blind spots that they refuse to address.

    The Grand Sophy is pretty much the pinnacle, by the way. I also love Venetia.


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