by Elizabeth Mansfield, historical (2002)
Jove, $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13414-7
Elizabeth Mansfield's The Girl With The Persian Shawl will appeal to fans who love their heroines in two shades of monotone: girly or shrill. The hero is appropriately patronizing - how else do you expect a hero who marries a shrill shrew to behave? - and while amusing in some way, this story also makes me feel like giving the heroine of this book a good cobbling in the behind.
Shrill, close to being a tarmagant and devoid of any wit to make her tolerable, Kate Rendell is twenty-four and unwed. When Harry Gerard, Lord Ainsworth, comes over her house to see if a painting of a haughty-looking girl in a Persian shawl is a long-lost heirloom of his family, she immediately shrieks, yells, and calls him names because she sees his coming over to mean that he is here to rob her family blind. When Harry finally gets a word in, he tells her that this painting isn't what he is looking for. Humiliated, Kate then proceeds to get a dressing down from a suitor she treats just as loudly and badly, and finally she decides to repent. Her resolution lasts a commendable ten minutes.
Later she will attend her cousin Deirdre's engagement party and assumes that Harry is Deirdre's hubby-to-be. He's not, but when Deirdre believes herself to be in love with Harry, hilarity ensues for some while for me, it's time to pop open the paracetamol jar and measure how many pills I can swallow without passing out.
I must confess that I'm charmed by dear Harry, truly a charming gentleman to the core, but the plot of this story revolves around two premise. One, Kate will immediately opens her mouth, humiliates herself and everybody, vows to repent, and promptly repeats this cycle again and again. Or it's Deirdre acting all giddy over Harry and Kate promptly jumping to the worst conclusions and plunging the story into yet another episode of tantrums and sulks. If Deirdre is a tragic dim-witted teenager, Kate isn't any better as a woman who just cannot stop and think without swallowing both her feet in her big mouth. Deirdre is 18 and Kate is 24, according to this book, but my generous guess is that the former is really 12 and the latter 15. They're lying about their age so that Ms Mansfield won't get arrested for writing about adult men marrying underaged immature girlies.
If somehow the two "women" are zapped out of this story completely, The Girl With The Persian Shawl will be an amusing light-hearted Regency era romp. But the romance is more akin to a grown man saving a silly aggressive poodle from dashing down the road and getting run down by a truck than a genuine love story between a man and a woman. Surely a charming man like Harry can rein in his pedonanny tendencies and get a sensible woman near his own age?
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