Thursday, 1 August 2013

'Cotillion' by Georgette Heyer (1953)

Synopsis: Mr Matthew Penicuik is a wealthy, tight-fisted and grumpy old man who is preparing his Will. Penicuik has several great-nephews with whom he could leave his fortune but instead he comes up with a zany scheme for his own amusement. He'll make his young ward Kitty Charing his heiress but Kitty can only receive the money if she marries one of his great-nephews. Penicuik then invites all of his great-nephews to his country estate so they can make their offers of marriage to Kitty. He expects that Kitty will accept Jack Westruther's proposal because everyone knows that Kitty has adored him for years - but Jack doesn't even turn up. Kitty is dismayed. The nerve of him! However, Kitty isn't prepared to let Jack go so easily and she comes up with a zany scheme of her own. She manages to persuade Freddy Stanton (another one of Penicuik's great-nephews) to enter into a sham engagement with her. That way, Kitty can finally get away from her frightful guardian for a while and travel to London. She can see the sights, shop till she drops, and make Jack wild with jealousy! Kitty goes to London and stays with Freddy's younger sister Meg. She then finds herself becoming involved in the romantic troubles of other people. Kitty's charming French cousin Camille is in love with a beautiful but impoverished young woman called Olivia. Lord Dolphington (yet another one of Penicuik's great-nephews) has fallen in love with a tradesmen's daughter called Hannah, but his mother is a manipulative bully and wants him to marry Kitty instead. Whilst Kitty tries to help them all, she begins to wonder if Jack is really the man she's always believed him to be.

Cotillion is my first Georgette Heyer novel. I've been wanting to read some of Georgette Heyer's books for years but I've just never got round to it. The main reason for my wanting to read some Georgette Heyer books is because I'd heard that Heyer's Jane Austen-inspired Regency romance novels are the next best thing to reading Jane Austen's. I'd been told that Heyer's books have a fun and upbeat tone, are completely chaste, and are historically accurate. Heyer's famous fans also include Stephen Fry and Richard Armitage.

Now that I've finally read a Georgette Heyer book I think the comparisons between Heyer and Austen are very fitting. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying for one minute that Cotillion deserves to be ranked with Austen's best or that Georgette Heyer is as good a writer as Jane Austen because she isn't. Heyer's writing isn't as witty as Austen's. Her characters aren't as well-developed as Austen's. Cotillion doesn't have much in the way of social commentary either. Austen's books have depth and Cotillion is essentially fluff - but it's brilliant fluff! Cotillion might not be as good as Austen's very best books but it's still far better than any of the crappy Jane Austen sequels, prequels, retellings and parodies that get published these days! Cotillion is a very well-written book and its tone and spirit is very Austen-esque. It's extremely funny book and the dialogue is delightful. Heyer does a great job with the different subplots as well and the characters are likeable and endearing. Kitty Charing is an engaging heroine. She's a bit immature and slightly selfish at the beginning of the book and at first I wasn't sure if I was going to like her or not. However, her good heart is soon revealed and she quickly won me over. Cotillion is a lovely book and is hugely entertaining.

Possibly my favourite thing about Cotillion was its very unconventional hero. Apparently Heyer's heroes are usually reformed rakes but Heyer wanted to play around with convention and do something a bit different with this book. Freddy Stanton is the sort of character who would usually be the hero's best friend/comic sidekick in a romance. He's very far from the sort of fictional hero I'd usually go for. Freddy isn't particularly good-looking and he isn't particularly bright. He's not sexy. He's not dashing. He's a bit daft. He actually reminds me quite a bit of P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. And yet, Freddy is very sweet, kind and loyal. He's honest and self-aware and full of common sense. He might not be particularly intelligent but he's far from stupid and he rises to the occasion by saving the day at the end. Freddy is a very likeable character and he's perfect for Kitty. Oh, and he's the best-dressed man in town too! By contrast, Jack Westruther is the sort of character who would usually turn out to be the hero. Jack is handsome, intelligent, witty and rakish and - in a more typical romance - he would learn the error of his ways and would become a better man by the end. But that doesn't happen and it was extremely refreshing! Don't get me wrong, I love a bad boy as much as the next girl but it was really nice to read something different!

Heyer was an amazingly prolific author and I'm really looking forward to reading more of her books. She wrote many Regency romances but she also dabbled in other historical periods and wrote contemporary murder-mystery novels. I definitely recommend Cotillion. When I was about a 1/3 of the way through the book I actually read a few reviews which said that it might not be the best introduction to Georgette Heyer because Freddy is such an atypical hero - but I carried on reading the book anyway and I still really enjoyed it. Cotillion doesn't rank up there with Austen's books but there's still much in it to enjoy.

Rating: 4.5/5

No comments: