Feb 23 2011
Dear Ms. Mallory,
I read Seven Secrets of Seduction over winter break. This, despite the fact, that I had been wanting to read it since it came out. Alas, my life conspires against me and I was caught in a maelstrom of duty. So, even though it had been on my shelf for months . . . basically since Jane reviewed it here at Dear Author . . . I had tragically not been able to open its covers. When I finally did, it was everything she said it was and more. My praise of this book garnered me the honor of getting to review your next book, One Night is Never Enough. You are an unusual author in that, though you write historical romance, they are primarily writes stand-alone novels, not inter-connected series. However, One Night is Never Enough deviates from this trend, and is directly connected to Seven Secrets of Seduction. The heroine of this new novel was the rival of the heroine of the last novel. Although, that summation does a disservice to both characters, it is the most succinct why of putting it.
The plot of One Night is Never Enough is as follows: Charlotte Chatsworth is in her third season, and she's becoming desperate. Or, to be more exact, her father is becoming desperate. Charlotte has received many offers, but none of them have ever been quite good enough for her father-’a man bent on using his eldest daughter's beauty, poise, and standing in society to better the family, to lift them out of debt, and, in short, to save them from his own profligacy. Charlotte is desperate because her father is desperate. Charlotte knows her duty. Charlotte knows that if she does not carry out her father's wishes, accedes to his plans, and manages to make a great marriage, that disaster will follow and that her sister, her one source of familial affection and love, will suffer as a consequence. Charlotte is acutely aware that disaster is not just likely to fall upon the family at any moment, but that it will fall on them. It is not a question of when, but of how soon. All of this is due to her father's gambling, selfishness and utter disregard for anyone's needs, but his own. He is a man capable of bringing the Chatsworths to ruin and then blaming Charlotte for it-’because she did not marry well, because she failed in her duty. Charlotte, while not happy by this state of affairs by any measure, is resigned to performing her father's wishes as swiftly and neatly as she can in order to both escape him and rescue her sister.
Due to their financial and social instability, coupled with Chatsworth's own ambition, he is constantly trying to sell his daughter to the highest bidder . . . albeit on the marriage mart. That said, one night, whilst in his cups in a dubious gaming hell owned by the Merrick Brothers, Chatsworth ends up betting one night with his daughter against some astronomical sum of money, convinced he can win on one hand of cards and thus undo all the harm he's done with his previous gambles. He does not, of course, manage this feat. The gentleman who leads him into this disastrous bet is not, as one would suspect, the hero, but a Mr. Trant, whose ambitions match Chatsworth's, but who is much subtler, and therefore, better a getting what he wants. What he wants is Charlotte, who he imagines as the perfect society wife-’which of course, she is. The problem with Trant's plan regarding Chatsworth's bet is that Roman Merrick is playing at the same table; the same Roman Merrick who is part owner of the gaming hell; the same Roman Merrick who is very beautiful and very amoral and already rather taken by Charlotte; the same Roman Merrick who decides he ought to win. They've meet before, you see, he and Charlotte, and he fancies her. Merrick wins. Of course, he wins. And Charlotte does her duty to her father and honors the bet, as she always does. Thus, the one night they spend together that occupies the title of the book
Plot-wise, the book proceeds as any long time reader of romance, expects it would. They are struck with each other. They become obsessed with each other. They fall in love with each other. They overcome the obstacles to their union. And finally, are with each other. But a plot summary can't actually convey the sheer emotional intensity of this story. Since I read Seven Secrets of Seduction, I have glommed a good portion of Ms. Mallory's backlist. Some books I have enjoyed more than others. But every single one of those books, I can say without hyperbole, is a book that stands out in the genre. While they are all in short summary, quite like many other romances, the actual execution of these standard plots is something altogether different. I've been thinking about why this is and I believe that it comes down to Mallory's writing style. What she does best, in my not so humble opinion, is to narrow the scope of the story to a single, claustrophobic perspective at the beginning of the story-’usually the heroine's. From here, she slowly opens the lens of the camera, widens the picture outward, eventually zooming out to encompass a much larger scene-’but one that is always imbedded in that first intense and narrow eye. The result of this perspective being rooted in that first narrow and emotional scope, gives her stories an intensity and an emotional nuance that I find unusual or, at the very least, uncommon. Mallory's books are sensational, in the sense that they cause sensation-’at least they cause me a physiological reaction. The narrow scope, the slow build of emotions and sensations works much like a thriller or a mystery, where each scene, each interior shift, slowly layers the emotions to a fever pitch until you, too, feel the character's emotions and anxieties as if they were in your body, not the character's.
One Night is Never Enough is no exception to this rule. The book begins in the narrow confines of Charlotte's mind as she's walking down Bond Street, anxiously worrying over the possibilities of her future, her family's dysfunction, and plotting, plotting, always plotting how she is going to get them all out of this impending doom.
She needed to slow down. To saunter and smile gently as a well-bred lady should. To embody the kind and soft woman she wished to be.
Charlotte Chatsworth strode the pavement instead. Long, hard strides. Trying to shake the feel of chains that had always been there, that she had tried to ignore for so long. Chains that were settling more firmly over her shoulders, growing tighter around her wrists and neck.
A distended feeling, full of panic and weariness, pushed outward from her belly, pushing against her ribs, reaching for her throat, to choke her-’a balloon grown too large. Emotions too tangled within and around it-’creating an almost physical pain.
If only it were a physical pain, a stomachache. Something that could be cured or relieved.
But the swelling desperation-’the mixture of bitterness, pride, and fear-’had been growing inside her for so long that she didn't know if anything would be left of her true self should the balloon finally pop.
The pressure of her situation obscures everything else around her. It is this lack of attention to the world outside her own misery that leads her to first meet Roman Merrick. What happens is that Charlotte and her maid, Anna, walk into a shop to pick up a parcel, unwittingly stumbling upon a violent scene-’what euphemistically could be called a re-negotiation of terms, but is really a series of threats followed by a few blows to get the point home. Roman Merrick and his brother, Andreas, are the ones doing the threatening. In the process of trying to escape, Charlotte calls attention to her presence and there is an exchange of sorts, between Charlotte and Roman. It is this meeting that prompts Roman to beat Trant at his own game and win Charlotte for a night. After all, it represented a singular moment in her life as well as his-’a singular moment that he intends to extend into another meeting, into an entire night. And the singularity of that encounter, like Charlotte's anxiety over her family's future, seems to balloon out from her until it begins to swallow up everything else in her being-’even that ever present "distention." This is not a state of affairs she wishes for and yet, it is one she longs for.
Unable to meet Charlotte anywhere but in the dark, like a vampire, Roman stalks her in solitary places, such as Vauxhall. Arranging to meet her to continue what was started but never finished during that one night of the bet.
She positioned her body to swing around the bench. To hide behind it in stupid panic. But the footsteps stopped and abruptly changed paths, echoing away. She clenched the stone. What was she doing, truly doing, here in the dark?
The path to Venus. It had been written in a quick and scratchy scrawl.
And here she was. Sitting amongst the hedges, waiting. Waiting.Just like any other boffleheaded chit hoping for a lover. The reckless urge reached up and pushed against everything she knew to be right.
The urge had been pushing hard and fast ever since she'd met him.
"Damn you, Roman Merrick," she muttered, a tad bitterly, too low for anyone to hear, should they be near.
"What did I do now?"
She shot off the bench and whirled around, looking wildly about her, one hand clutched at her throat in terror and shock. Not seeing anyone standing, she wrenched her gaze back to the bench to see an arm propped on the stone, his bottom half hidden behind the bench.
Lying back there the entire time.
She did the only thing that occurred to her in her flurry of wild emotion. She moved forward and kicked him in what she assumed was his backside, cloaked in the shadows as he was. Incongruously, he started to laugh. She lifted her foot to kick him again, but he grasped her ankle. Heated fingers pierced through her stockings, touching her bare flesh through the netting as they wrapped around.
"Don't make me ruin your lovely dress in the grass." Amusement laced his voice as he lifted her leg, pulling her off-balance and causing her to hop on the other. "Or do. It would greatly simplify matters, don't you think?"
"What the bloody hell are you doing back there?"
"My goodness. Such gutter language on a lady so fine." One finger stroked the underside of her calf. Up, up. She tried to pull her limb back, hopping more fiercely, arms whirling around to keep herself upright. "I hope you know other such words because there is simply nothing more divine than the idea of such a classy woman speaking foully as I thrust into her."
What I chiefly like best about this book, and Mallory's writing in general, is the longing she evokes. There is not enough longing in romance these days. Maybe there never was enough. It's all sex, sex, sex in lieu of emotional development, which, as I've indicated elsewhere, is boring to me. What's attractive about romance is the ability to get a story that cannot be told if you were just watching people. Whether you are watching them have sex, or get married, or exchange insults-’you don't get to see inside them, to see what they are feeling, quite as directly as you get to in fiction. This is, of course, what is so tantalizing and addictive about literature-’that ability to have direct access to someone's interiority, an access you get nowhere else.
As I said, Mallory begins the novel in the tight, narrow scope of Charlotte's anxiety and widens the book out from there. Because of this, you never get the sense she is just a martyr to her family, in that frustrating and senseless way so many heroines are martyrs. Rather, you feel how trapped she is by circumstance and the few options open to her as a woman. Similarly, even when the perspective shifts to Roman's, there is something obscure about him that is never really illuminated, even by the end of the book. Something about him remains mysterious. The tight perspective of the narrative prevents the reader from ever being privy to certain mysteries and characters that inhabit the story. By the end of the book, some things, events, and people remain unknown. Because of this, I feel it is my duty as a reviewer to warn people of the following: This is a book which, while historical, is not concerned with history-’that is, the camera lens never widens out far enough to encapsulate the historical moment it is set in. In some ways, it is ahistorical. It could be set at any time between 1794 and 1825. This might annoy some people. I, personally, find the ahistorical nature of story adeptly wielded because it allows more time for a concentration on the characters' mental space. I also think some people might be annoyed by the occlusion that occurs over some events, characters and personages. Certain things just don't become clear by the end of the story. But whether this is okay with you might be a matter of taste.
Despite these caveats, for me, this book was a very good read. I enjoyed it immensely, partly because it felt unusual in the way it was told, and partly because it was so visceral in that telling; both things that I find very attractive in books. I didn't quite like it as much as Seven Secrets, but overall, I think it was a very good romance, an intense read with interesting and distinctive characters and writing style. One that I will read again. A-