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REVIEW: A Most Lamentable Comedy by Janet Mullany

Dear Ms. Mullany,

9780755347797Two years ago I feel in love with “The Rules of Gentility.” Its first person spoofing of the Rules of Writing a Regency Romance had me in stitches. When Janine mentioned that you were going to have a sequel to it published this summer, I rubbed my hands with glee.

Deep in debt, widowed Lady Caroline Elmhurst and her maid Mary are decamping from their rented room literally one step ahead of the bailiff. Caroline’s two marriages – first to much older man who left her money and second to a young man who spent that money – plus her slight slip in social mores by allowing a man unrelated to her pay her rent, have left her with a soiled reputation among the ton. Luckily for her, she’s received an invitation to a country house party given by an amateur thespian with plans to stage Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” using his guests and servants as the actors. With luck, she’ll be able to find a wealthy man here to marry.

Mr. Nicholas Congrevance and his valet Barton, lately of the Continent, are also among the guests present. In the past ten years since leaving England, Nicholas has turned his hand to many occupations, including cicisbeo, and changed his name almost as much. After the servants of his latest lover’s husband toss him in a canal in Venice, he’s overcome with a desire to see his homeland. And hopes that he can find yet another wealthy wife or widow among the guests to charm and fleece.

So the two of them meet among the many guests roped into presenting a play about star crossed lovers and amateur actors. But what will happen after each discovers the true financial status of the other and how will their hearts work out a future in the face of their pasts.

Anyone expecting a regular Regency novel ought best to change their expectations before starting “Lamentable.” As with “Gentility,” this is a delightful spoof of what we’ve come to expect in this historic subgenre. Caroline and Nicholas are cheerfully honest with themselves, if not with each other, about their plans to take the other for everything they can get. The only difference is that Caro needs marriage to remain halfway respectable in society while Nicholas plans to take the money and run. If they had been plotting against anyone else, I would have had more trouble with their dishonesty but since they are each other’s marks, I can sit back and enjoy the fun.

The humor is razor sharp yet underneath lies the precarious situation of Caro and Nicholas’s need for money and the risk that they will fall out of polite society, both of which were ever present in this age. They are surrounded by a complicated set of secondary characters, many of whom we first met in “Gentility,” and several of whom we see from a different POV than in that book.

Since this book isn’t trying to be a serious presentation of Regency life, even Romance Regency Life, I can accept the unconventional relationships among the secondary characters, though I still found them odd, and that these people would be accepted in polite society even if it is in the country. After all, how likely is it that a man, his wife and his son would also be in the company of two of his former mistresses, his son by one of those women and her current beau? Plus his mother and her second husband.

I was sorry that Nicholas turns to a tired romance cliche late in the book and that Caroline believes it. There’s also a deus ex machina character who suddenly springs into the story and allows for a happy ending for our lovers. But despite his appearance which Changes All, I laughed hysterically during the scenes in which he interacts with Caroline and at the correspondence which is sprinkled through this part of the novel.

The final resolution of Caro and Nicholas’s romance is a farce** in the positive sense of the word rather than as a mockery or sham. I love that Caro is well aware that she’s being manipulated and that Nicholas has his doubts about the whole enterprise. Caro also calls Nicholas on his earlier action that I disliked and generally gives him hell – much to the dismay of some of his workers. But he knows that she’s the woman for him and underneath it all, she’s aware that he is her true love as well. A final thing that delighted me is how you worked out a final station in life for these two which fits with the character limitations you’ve given them.

Comedy is so subjective with one person’s delight being another’s “I simply don’t get it” so I hesitate to recommend this as a comedy but those who like conventions turned on their heads and something slightly different might enjoy this. Since I’m a reader who is tired of yet one more Duke spy/rake crossed with a martyr heroine who tosses convention aside for some quick, hawt sex, I dove into this with gusto. If it had not been for those two issues I mentioned, this one would have garnered an A range grade but as it is, I give it a strong B+.

~Jayne

**(Wikipedia: A farce is a comedy written for the stage or film which aims to entertain the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include sexual innuendo and word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases, culminating in an ending which often involves an elaborate chase scene. Farce is also characterized by physical humour, the use of deliberate absurdity or/of nonsense, and broadly stylized performances.)

This book can be purchased at Book Depository. There appears to be no ebook version.

This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

24 Comments

  1. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 05:49:47

    I would buy Janet Mullany’s grocery list—she is one of the most entertaining writers I’ve read in a long time. She’s about to plunge into Jane Austen paranormal, which I eagerly await.

  2. Brussel Sprout
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 06:47:43

    I read this and preferred it to Rules. Apart from that one cliché moment for Nicholas, I thought both he and Caroline were delightful and fresh characters.

    Re the unconventional relationships – yes, perfectly possible to have man with numerous previous mistresses wives and bastards all under the same roof. Think of the widely known menage a trois between the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster. Polite society was rather more flexible than it is given credit for. The books of Arthur Bryant and Bernard Falk give readable examples galore of irregular relationships that were widely acknowledged, as do the lives of the Romantic poets, notably Coleridge and Shelley – even Byron’s misdemeanours could have been smoothed over, I suspect, given time and perhaps a little penitence on his part. Also there was much greater fluidity between the nobility, gentry and upper middle classes than is generally conveyed in Romancelandia. Sheri Cobb South has a great understanding of this in the Weaver Takes a Wife.

    Gentry and upper middle classes were always more conformist, conventional and moralistic than nobility, who tended to the rackety once the heir and spare were provided. But the big difference in Britain was the accession of a Queen in violent reaction to the extremely decadent ways of her uncles. Victoria was marginal to the activities of the nobility but extremely influential on the culture and morals of her subjects, providing a role model of fidelity and family life… until Edward Prince of Wales was an adult, but there was rank hypocrisy running right through all levels of society throughout the 19th century.

    Katie Hickman on Courtesans is very interesting on this kind of area. In its depiction of inter-relationships between a small circle of friends, I have found Mullany rather more believable than all of the peculiar spy clubs or gangs of sisters and/or brothers who inhabit some of the more implausible corners of historical romance.

    http://www.thatreadingwritingthing.com/

  3. Susan/DC
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 07:20:03

    I too found this book funny, smart, and a pleasure from beginning to end. Mullaney both plays within the Regency boundaries and turns them on their head, and the result is enjoyable once you realize what she’s done and happily go along for the ride. As you note, humor is subjective, but Mullaney’s humor quite clearly fits mine, and I’ve liked Dedication (somewhat of an outlier but more clearly within the straight Regency genre), The Rules of Gentility, and now A Most Lamentable Comedy. May she live long and prosper, and continue to write and get published.

  4. Marsha
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 07:25:53

    Ooooh…this sounds so very fun. Thanks for the review – I don’t know if I would have found it otherwise.

  5. Janet Mullany
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 08:04:50

    Thanks, Jayne, and here’s a buy link with free shipping worldwide–www.bookdepository.com –and a hypnotic map where you can see sales occur all over the world (better than tv).
    Big thanks, Maggie, Susan and Marsha for the votes of support.
    Janet

  6. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 08:23:15

    Man, yet another for my TBR Cache (this has been an expensive week for me!). . . Thank god it can’t fall on me and crush me into oblivion, LOL!

  7. Miranda Neville
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 09:23:35

    Ditto on the grocery list. This book needs a US publisher. Read it and die laughing.

  8. GrowlyCub
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 09:29:51

    Definitely check out bookdepository.com. I just bought one of the detested trade-sized titles for half price yesterday. They seem to have great deals right around release date for some books.

    And that map, oh my. I’ve stared at it – hypnotized – for quite a while yesterday watching what others were buying!

    And when I just checked to see what price they are offering on this book, Lamentable flashed up on the screen as having just been bought. :)

  9. Janine
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 09:37:08

    Oops, the cover picture and the purchase links are for the wrong book — Mullany’s The Rules of Gentility, rather than A Most Lamentable Comedy. I just emailed Jane and Jayne about fixing this. I tried inserting some purchase links but they didn’t work.

    You can find the book at:

    http://www.bookdepository.co.uk (UK – ships free worldwide)

    http://www.amazon.co.uk (UK)

    http://www.chapters.indigo.ca (Canada)

  10. Janine
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 09:41:52

    Ah good, I see the problem has been fixed!

  11. Janet Mullany
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 10:29:45

    @GrowlyCub:

    And when I just checked to see what price they are offering on this book, Lamentable flashed up on the screen as having just been bought. :)

    GrowlyCub, if you only knew how long I’ve spent watching the map to see this very thing! I am SO jealous.

    Janet

  12. Kate Pearce
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 10:57:31

    I loved this book it is just so ‘British’ and tongue in cheek-rather like its author.

  13. Vicky Dreiling
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 11:01:57

    Congrats to Janet on another fabulous, smart and witty book! I gobbled up comedy (and by the way it’s super easy to order as listed in a post above – I got it fast, too).

    Janet, I only have one question: When is the next book coming out?????

    Cheers!

  14. Jayne
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 12:12:52

    And that map, oh my. I've stared at it – hypnotized – for quite a while yesterday watching what others were buying!

    I could sit for ages watching that map. Major time suck! ;)

  15. Jayne
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 12:14:59

    And I just got the copy that Janine obtained for me at RWA this summer. Signed by Janet too! It’s now sitting cheek to cheek with my copy of “Rules of Gentility” – alas not signed.

    And yes – when’s the next book? Soon, I hope….

  16. GrowlyCub
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 13:20:24

    And the map is working too as an advertising tool. :) Well, mostly. It got me to check out the description of a book I saw several people buy all over the world (at least 3 different continents). It sounded kind of interesting, but not quite my cup of tea after all. So, interest piqued, no additional sale though… this time… :) Whoever thought that up, I hope they get extra pay from BD.com. And I’m kind of surprised Amazon didn’t come out with that first! :)

  17. RStewie
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 13:30:18

    My cousin is an English professor and loves Jane Austin, Terry Pratchett, and subversive writing humor…would these be a good match for her for a gift?

  18. Janet Mullany
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 14:26:24

    Next book from Little Black Dress is coming out maybe next spring–I don’t have a firm date yet but its working title is Improper Relations (I hope they let me keep it).

    RStewie, I love Austen and Pratchett too and my friend who is an English professor said I quoted Austen all the way thru and she liked it. But then she is my friend, so…

  19. RStewie
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 15:08:11

    Thanks so much, Janet! I love to get her books she never would have read, and she likes Romance, but most times “can’t” admit to it.

    LOL This sounds like a winner.

  20. Jayne
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 15:40:45

    Re the unconventional relationships – yes, perfectly possible to have man with numerous previous mistresses wives and bastards all under the same roof. Think of the widely known menage a trois between the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster. Polite society was rather more flexible than it is given credit for.

    Good point. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  21. MB
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 15:56:08

    I loved the humor in Rules of Gentility and have been eagerly waiting this one!

  22. Statch
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 16:35:24

    I’m so bummed — I found The Rules of Gentility in ebook format, but it was $10.95, and I’m not going to pay that for an ebook. (I have a Buywise membership at Fictionwise so it was discounted to around $8.00 but that’s still too much.) They both sound like books I would enjoy. I’ll just have to hope the publisher changes its pricing and also decides to issue the 2d book as an ebook.

  23. Janine
    Oct 08, 2009 @ 18:47:25

    And I just got the copy that Janine obtained for me at RWA this summer.

    Yes, I took forever to get around to mailing it. Oh well, better late than never…

  24. Top Romances of 2009 by Jayne | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 13:55:51

    […] “A Most Lamentable Comedy” Janet Mullany […]

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