Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Few sexual liaisons among the gentry went unnoticed in 18th-century beau monde England-the gossip papers of the era make our own tabloid culture look respectful-and though fleeting same-sex affairs were somewhat fashionable, suspected homosexuals were condemned to public humiliation and criminal punishment. Offering a fictionalized account of real-life scandal, Donoghue (Slammerkin) tells the story of three minor historical personages: the actress Eliza Farren, the Earl of Derby and the widowed sculptress Anne Damer. Famously ugly Lord Derby has been pursuing chaste young Eliza for years, hoping to marry her when his estranged, invalid wife dies. In the meantime, Eliza meets Derby's friend Anne and the two strike up a close, platonic friendship. Though she denies them vehemently, rumors of Sapphism haunt Anne Damer and endanger the reputations of everyone around her. Spanning the decade from 1787 to 1797, the novel follows this cast of characters through their complicated romantic and political entanglements. All the while, the French Revolution rages, causing major upheaval among the British nobility. Even as Derby and Anne befriend common folk like Eliza and support the liberal Whig party, hoping to topple mad King George, the mounting wave of European democracy threatens to extinguish their life of indolent leisure. Donoghue, who has written a historical examination of 18th-century British lesbian culture, Passions Between Women, has an extraordinary talent for turning exhaustive research into plausible characters and narratives; she presents a vibrant world seething with repressed feeling and class tensions. Agent, Kathleen Anderson at Anderson Grinberg. 8-city author tour. (Sept. 4) Forecast: The sensational thrills of bestselling Slammerkin aren't on offer here-there are many more earnest conversations than sex scenes-but readers who appreciated Slammerkin's emotional and historical depths will enjoy Donoghue's latest. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Donoghue's latest, another fabulously entertaining historical (Slammerkin, 2001, etc.), illuminates three intertwined 18th-century lives. Eliza Farren has carved a place for herself in London's beau monde,thanks to the brilliance of her comic performances at the Drury Lane Theatre, the love of the Earl of Derby, and the resolute virtue that keeps her from becoming the married earl's mistress. Eliza begins a warm friendship with the widowed Anne Damer, who takes advantage of her aristocratic background and financial independence to pursue her art as a sculptor. Anne and Derby, both firm Whigs, spark Eliza's interest in politics, and she too becomes an adherent of the party that opposes the policies of George III's autocratic prime minister, William Pitt. The Whigs's generous, ramshackle leader Charles Fox, unscrupulous yet charming Drury Lane manager Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and witty, garrulous literary man Horace Walpole (Anne's godfather) are among the historical figures who come to brilliant fictional life as the narrative unfolds at a leisurely pace over the stormy decade 1787-97. Donoghue does equally well with her three protagonists, also fleshed-out from real-life personalities. Derby and Anne are appealing, genuinely liberal people who nonetheless would never dream of giving up their inherited privilege. Eliza, who depends on the public favor, is necessarily more calculating: she renounces Anne when rumors of her friend's "Sapphist" tendencies endanger her livelihood, and she keeps Derby at a platonic arm's length until his invalid wife dies and they can marry at the close. The author explores her characters inner lives in the context of rich details about 18th-century theater, the brutal hypocrisy of aristocratic society, and the ferocious debate over the British government's repressive policies at home in response to the excesses of the French Revolution abroad. Donoghue underscores contemporary relevance with untypical clumsiness through anachronistic references to "weapons of mass destruction" and "homeland security"; in general, her touch is light but probing as she guides her characters toward the middle-aged wisdom that "everybody wears a mask . . . to persuade ourselves as much as others." A little slow to start, but readers who give themselves over to its unhurried rhythms will be rewarded: a full-bodied tale that satisfies the head and the heart. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Descriptive content provided by Syndetics™, a Bowker service.