The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik



August 8, 2014

The Fortune Hunter



I liked Daisy Goodwin's first novel The American Heiress (read it once, listened to it again) and so I was happy to hear that she had written another.  But as sometimes happen, I put it on reserve so long ago that when it came in last week I found that I had forgotten that the main character was Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi), the consort of Emperor Franz Joseph and 'the Princess Diana of the nineteenth century.' (It's funny, I mentioned this book to three friends and they all knew immediately who she was. I didn't!) As is turns out, the other two main characters - the dashing, womanizing, cavalry officer Bay Middleton and Charlotte Baird, the unconventional young woman who falls in love with him -- were all real people. {So are Queen Victoria, her Highland servant, John Brown, and  Princess Diana's ancestor, Earl Spencer, but they're all secondary characters and not all that interesting.}

Charlotte is young, not very beautiful, intelligent, uncoventional, and seriously interested in photography.  She is also heiress to the Lennox diamonds and a great fortune, and chafes under the guardianship of her dull aunt and her blundering older brother Fred.  Fred is about to marry slightly above his station to Lady Augusta Crewe, who has finally found a husband after four London seasons.  Charlotte is summoned to a house party at Melton, Lord and Lady Crewe's estate, at the time of a famous English fox hunt, where she meets Captain Middleton.  But the Empress, an imperious, aging beauty and a fearless horsewoman, has also come to England for hunting season, and Middleton, one of England's best riders, is prevailed upon to serve as her pilot, and it's probably not much of a spoiler to tell you that there is a love triangle and a good scandal.

It make sense that this is a novel that's built more around characters rather than plot, though none of them is sketched very deeply.  In a video clip I saw on Goodreads Daisy Goodwin refers to Sisi as her 'heroine,' but I found it hard to see her in that light. (I didn't really like Daisy Goodwin's first heroine either, now that I think of it), and as for Bay, I wanted someone better for Charlotte.  I love the idea of historical fiction based on historical events, though it can be hard to pull off in my humble opinion. I think I liked this book better for knowing that it was based on real people, and probably took some interesting liberties with them.  I have the feeling that this would be a great way to write a novel. Not great literature, but a book that I was happy to turn to all week, even though I knew how it would end...  :)        


4 comments:

Bellezza Mjs said...

I like books based on real people, too. Historical fiction isn't tsomething I usually turn to first, but the great books I've read in this genre have stayed with me. I'm thinking of the Irving Stone books, particularly The Agony and The Ecstasy, about Michelangelo, and Lust for Life about..darn it! Was it Freud or Van Gogh? Goodness sakes, they're nothing alike, and here I am too old to remember which one. xo

Cosy Books said...

Is it just me or is cover art becoming ever more eye-catching?

The nights have begun to draw in, Audrey, which means reading something chunky and historic; Wilkie Collins usually fits the bill but this doesn't sound half bad!

fleurfisher said...

I'm afraid that I didn't get on with the first book (I think it had a different title here, but I forget what it was) but I do like the sound of this. One to add to my library list, I think.

fleurfisher said...

I'm afraid that I didn't get on with the first book (I think it had a different title here, but I forget what it was) but I do like the sound of this. One to add to my library list, I think.