Jan 7 2009
Dear Ms. Maguire:
I’ve been meaning to read you for a year or so but I haven’t gotten around to it until recently. This book intrigued me, though, and I thought it was the perfect place to start.
When Anthony Maddox was 10 years old, he was lost on an African Safari. His father searched but could not find him, eventually going home and dying within a year of his return. Anthony’s grandmother kept up the search by offering a large reward. Twenty-two years later, while he was sick, two adventurers came upon him in a valley several hundred miles inland. The story of Anthony’s loss in Africa was legendary and coming upon a white man in this territory made the adventurers think of his story. They questioned him and are provided enough information to believe that he is the genuine lost heir.
In some sense, this was a captivity romance, but only in reverse. Anthony is captured and taken back to England where he is to learn to act, speak and comport himself as a gentleman worthy of the title, Earl of Sutton. If he cannot convince the House of Lords that he is Anthony, then the title will be stripped and likely given to someone else.
The problem is that Anthony’s emotional arc begins with him narrating his love for Africa but the path back to Africa seems easy enough.
But he had become part of Africa, and it was surely part of him in a way that England could never be. He belonged in his tropical valley, with its tribal people and fresh game, with its flowing waters and open sky.
When questioned about his past, he gives accurate answers. If he truly wants to return to Africa, why doesn’t he just lie about it. If they believe he’s an imposter, he’ll get a ticket back to his tropical valley. But the story needs Anthony in Africa so he ponies up all the right details to make others believe in him.
I felt like I was always questioning whether it was authentic. For example, Anthony speaks perfect English. I suppose that the excuse was that Anthony had a Bible left by the missionaries that he carried with him at all times and that he lived in England until the age of 10. I wasn’t necessarily convinced, particularly when you go to the trouble to insert the occasional African phrase here or there. (was that even his tribe’s dialect?). To a degree, the African insertions reminded me alot of the faux Scottish accents that characters are given via the usage of dinnae, cannae, and kin. This passage took place the day after his landing in England:
“You cannot imagine the violence of the downpour and the resulting mayhem on the boat. In the chaos, I-” Grace saw the flexing of a muscle in his jaw as he hesitated. “- I fell overboard.”
At another juncture, Anthony’s courtship/seduction of Grace is interrupted by another suitor and Anthony thinks to “throttle him.” His “barbarism is based on physicalities. He doesn’t wear shoes and he often acts on his lustful impulses toward Grace.
Grace Hawthorne is the companion to Anthony’s grandmother, Lady Sophia Sutton. She owes a great deal to Lady Sutton and therefore when Lady Sutton asks Grace to be Anthony’s tutor, Henry Higgins, if you will. The two are pushed into close, secreted quarters as Grace privately tutors Anthony on deportment, political structure, recent history, and the like. Anthony focuses on learning all that he can and defeating the challenge to his ascension to earldom because he has little love for his challenger (but then he really, really is going home to Africa).
Anthony’s real longing for Africa isn’t due to the appeal of his valley, but it is the fear of being abandoned. He has believed for years that his father left him and even when confronted with a differing story, that need to be self sufficient in all things is something that can’t be shaken off like bad manners.
Grace is grateful to Lady Sutton for taking her in. She has no money or position of her own and a lady’s companion to someone as decent as Lady Sutton is much as she can aspire to. She’s been abandoned too, in a sense, by her the deaths of her parents and the desertion of a suitor who couldn’t take Grace and Grace’s ailing mother. She has a certain sense of inferiority that allows herself to be manipulated into the uncomfortable situation with Anthony and then, when she succumbs to Anthony’s seductions, she believes herself to not be worthy to be his mate.
It’s possible that I don’t have enough imagination for this story, that I cannot simply be swept away without questioning this detail and that. Both the character arcs had a nice feel to them, although I thought that Anthony’s near constant physical attraction to Grace a bit overwhelming in this situation. I’m curious to read another book by you to see if I would have the same consistency/believability problems. This one, though, in my notebook is a C.