Wednesday, 15 January 2014

'Venetia' by Georgette Heyer (1958)

Synopsis: Venetia Lanyon is 25 years old. She's taking care of her brother Conway's remote estate in North Yorkshire whilst he's living in France. Venetia is beautiful and wealthy but she's lived a very sheltered life. Her overprotective and reclusive father wouldn't let her "come out" properly and she's only known a very limited circle of acquaintance. She has only her beloved younger brother Aubrey for company and he'll soon be heading off to Cambridge. Venetia has resigned herself to the fact that she's either going to have to marry the boring and pompous Edward Yardley or become a spinster. But Venetia's life changes dramatically when she finally meets her next-door neighbour. This neighbour is the scandalous rake Lord Damerel, who has recently returned to the area after many years of travelling. When Damerel first sees Venetia he immediately tries to seduce her. Venetia sensibly ignores his amorous advances and decides to stay away from him. However, when Aubrey is injured and Damerel shows great kindness towards him, Venetia is very touched. She and Damerel become good friends and then fall in love - but Damerel then decides that he isn't worthy of Venetia and that it would ruin her reputation if he married her. They're both heartbroken. Meanwhile, Conway Lanyon sends his new wife and mother-in-law to the family estate. Conway's mother-in-law Mrs Scourier is an odious woman and Venetia's domestic situation becomes intolerable. She decides to spend a few months in London with her aunt and uncle whilst she looks for a new home. Her relatives hope that a change in scenery will help her to forget Damerel but Venetia can take no real enjoyment of London life. She misses Damerel and Aubrey too much. When Venetia then discovers a family secret she suddenly realises that she can use it to her advantage by convincing Damerel that she would genuinely be better off marrying him.

I didn't technically read Venetia because I listened to an abridged audiobook version of it. This is very unusual for me: I don't think I've ever listened to an audiobook before and I can't stand abridged books. I have a "Go hard or go home" policy when it comes to literature :D But on this one occasion I caved in because I found out that Richard Armitage had recorded an abridged audiobook version of Venetia. I could happily listen to Richard Armitage reading the phone book. For those readers who don't know who Richard Armitage is - poor you - he played John Thornton in North and South (2004), Guy of Gisborne in the BBC's Robin Hood and Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. He's also recorded audiobooks for Georgette Heyer's Sylvester and The Convenient Marriage. I'm definitely planning on listening to those other audiobooks now. I loved Richard Armitage's reading of Venetia. It was worth listening to an abridged version just to hear his voice. Also I never really got the sense that I was listening to an abridged version anyway. I still really want to read Venetia in its full unabridged form but this abridged version didn't feel disjointed and I never got the sense that things were missing. Armitage is excellent on this recording and he gives every single character their own distinct voice. I especially enjoyed the voices he used for the elderly females, Aubrey and, of course, the voice he used for Damerel. It's very seductive. If anyone from the BBC is reading this you have absolutely got to make an adaptation of Venetia and to cast Richard Armitage as Damerel. Immediately!

Venetia is my fourth Georgette Heyer novel and my favourite so far. Richard Armitage's narration definitely enhanced my enjoyment of it but even if I had read it in its written form I'm still sure that it would have been my favourite. I loved this book! I think the reason why Venetia is my favourite Georgette Heyer novel so far is because it isn't as fluffy. It's still hilariously funny in places but it has more of an emotional depth and maturity than the other Heyer novels that I've read. Venetia is a very romantic book. It's very heartfelt and emotional in places. I really cared about the characters and their romance. I could really feel Venetia and Damerel's inner pain and happiness. I was genuinely moved by it in places.

Venetia has also got some wonderful characters. Venetia herself is an extremely likeable heroine. She's mature, witty, independent, sensible, intelligent and spirited. Damerel - in spite of his rakish ways - is funny, charismatic, intelligent, intriguing and kind. I loved these characters and I loved their relationship. Their banter is always highly entertaining. Then there all of the great secondary characters in this book. One of my issues with the last Georgette Heyer book that I read (Arabella) was that its secondary characters were all a bit flat but that's definitely not the case with Venetia. The secondary characters in this book are really well-rounded. I absolutely loved Aubrey Lanyon. I loved him just as much as Venetia and Damerel and he's a very interesting character. He's slightly selfish but he's still very kind to his sister and clearly loves her. He's bookish and funny and his friendship with Damerel is very sweet. I could quite happily read an entire book about him! Mrs Scourier is so rude and unpleasant that you're longing for Venetia to just kick her out of the house. Edward Yardley is persistent and condescending. Venetia has also got another suitor in this book called Oswald Denny - a bumbling, teenage Lord Byron wannabe - who cracked me up. We even get a very strong sense of Conway Lanyon's personality and he never actually shows up in the book!

I was completely captivated by this book. I kind of wish that we'd gotten a bit more evidence of Damerel turning away from his rakish lifestyle but you can still see a big difference between his talks about his old life and his behaviour towards the Lanyons. And MAJOR SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) I also wish that we could have gotten more of an insight into Venetia's emotions at finding out that her mother is still alive. Venetia only seems happy about it, because she knows that she can use this knowledge to marry Damerel. But wouldn't she have also felt some anger and resentment at being abandoned by her?

But apart from these minor things I still really loved Venetia and I completely recommend it to Jane Austen fans. It's got great characters, it's funny, it's moving, it's really well-written. Georgette Heyer does such a brilliant job at writing in a Regency style that if I didn't know any better I'd think she was actually a contemporary of Jane Austen's. I wish I'd started reading Georgette Heyer's books years ago.

Rating: 5/5


Miss Melody Muffin said...


I haven't heard it, but I found out that he read it in audiobook before I read the book... and when I did read it, I could not imagine anyone else as Damerel. He would be superb in the role.

Yes, BBC, do an adaptation with Armitage as Damerel, PLEASE!!!!!!!! He is PERFECT for the role!!!!

I loved Venetia. It is one of my favorites of Heyer's and it has a place of honor on my shelf.

Very good review!! I always enjoy reading other people's reviews of my favorite books.

Hannah said...

Thank you Melody! I really did love Venetia. Frederica is the next Heyer book that I'm planning to read. I thought you'd approve :)