Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥
He: James is the rakish heir to the Earl of Moreland whose sole aim in life is to infuriate his father in order to "punish" him for this terrible thing his father did in the past. James never forgives his father for abandoning his sister during her most difficult time because of the Earl's obsession with being dignified in the eyes of society.
She: Lydia is a proper, spinsterish miss who for lack of a "better" occupation (i.e. marriage) is her father's right hand man in his business affairs in the trade of Egyptian antiquities. She doesn't seem to have any special passion for antiquities for all she writes papers about them, but she does do her duty to her father admirably.
Conflict: Both H & h are loyal to a fault. Lydia is loyal to her father, despite the fact that he basically abandons her and her sisters to hare off to Egypt to dig up artifacts. James is loyal to his sister even when it means ruining his relationship with his father, ruining his own reputation in society and generally living with his sweltering bitterness and guilt.
Eventually both are made to see that loyalty and faith, while excellent attributes, cannot be given indiscriminately. Lydia and James each need to give up a little of their stubbornness in order to face reality and finally learn to be happy.
What I liked:
1) I liked the psychological complications of relationships between fathers and their children. It shows how those initial key relationships with one's father/mother teach people to love and trust in future relationships. When those initial relationships go wrong, it can have devastating effects on the person's ability to really achieve true peace of mind until they resolve the conflicts with their own families.
In the story, it is imperative for both Lydia and James to achieve some sort of closure with their respective fathers before they can truly be free to forge a new, healthy relationship with one another. I appreciated the fact that the author didn't try to resolve everything with a pretty ribbon at the end, but left in a little of the messiness that a real life family with internal troubles might have.
2) The writing was amazing. Sometimes.
MD would write these beautifully complicated sentences, witty dialogue and some lovely, wrenching internal character monologues, and then she would have a sentence like "you, sir, are a cad!" Huh? Seems a little trite, no? Then there were these awful, awful, awful American-isms ("bully for you") that just made me wince. And many times characters refer to James as "Viscount" rather than "My lord". There should be a proper editor who edits this kind of stuff out. I mean, I know it's not THAT big a deal, but if you're writing a period book, why not just treat the topic with respect and do it properly?
Anyway, MD is clearly a wonderful writer. But I thought this was only good when it could have been edited to be superb.
What I grew super annoyed with:
1) Lydia spends a whole lot of the book chastising the poor man for being a "cad", being useless, being a rake, being a bad son etc etc. Get over it, lady. It was especially annoying because she seems to go overboard criticizing him because she herself is such an insecure bundle of nerves (she's insecure about her looks, her standing in society, her desirability). And anyway, who was she to criticize someone so roundly? She was plenty damaged herself.
2) Although everything was really well written, I felt like the internal monologue just went on and on and ON. There were some points where one character would say something, and before the other responds there would be 3 PAGES of internal monologue - so I had pretty much forgotten what the last bit of dialogue even was by the time the other person responds.
3) Throwaway secondary characters. Lydia's sisters, James' friend Phin and certain other secondary characters are mentioned, play some role in the story and then sort of just disappear. We don't get a sense of the "world" Lydia and James live in because we don't really know the people in their world. We know a lot about their relationships with their respective fathers, but very little about their relationships with other people. Even Lydia's relationship with her sisters seem a bit two-dimensional. All I know is that one sister sucks and one is nice. And that's about it. MD probably set it up that way to write other books about these other characters, but I thought their roles were a bit unsatisfying in this particular book.
Skeptic's last word: I think MD is a super writer - she seems to be someone I would normally love reading. I am going to pick up another of her books to see if I perhaps just picked wrong this time since this seemed to miss somewhat with me.