JOINT REVIEW: Someone to Remember by Mary Balogh
Janine: In book six of Mary Balogh’s regency-set Westcott series, Someone to Honor, Matilda, the 56-year-old maiden aunt in the Westcott family, did something scandalous in calling on Viscount Dirkson with only her niece’s stepson, Bertrand, for company.
Matilda’s purpose was to inform the viscount that Gil, his illegitimate son, was in need of aid. We learned that Matilda and the viscount were romantically involved in their early twenties until something came between them. Now comes Someone to Remember, Matilda and Dirkson’s story.
As Someone to Remember opens, Alexander, Earl of Riverdale and son of Matilda’s cousin, Althea (this is one series where the diagram of the family tree comes in handy), and Wren, Alexander’s countess, call on Matilda and her mother to suggest that the family host a thank you dinner in honor of the viscount, who helped Gil when Gil needed it.
When he gets the invitation, Charles, the viscount, has to tell his heir, Adrian, that he has another son. Adrian isn’t happy with this news, but attends the dinner with Charles anyway.
At the dinner, Charles is aware of Matilda studying him and annoyed at her constant assistance to her mother. He feels she has sacrificed her happiness to serve her mother, and that she deserved better.
Later, they wind up chaperoning a group of young people in Kew Gardens and begin to converse about their past. Matilda and Charles were separated in large part by his wild reputation, a reputation he more than lived up to in the years after he was forced to give up Matilda.
Would he have led a different life had he and she not been parted? Would theirs have made for a happy marriage? Charles and Matilda are both haunted by this question.
I won’t spoil what happens after this, since the story is a short one.
Charles did not make a favorable impression on me. I think that if he’d just been a rake in the past, or just fathered Gil and refused to marry his mother, I could have still liked him, depending on how it was presented. One of these things could be viewed a sign of his raging against the loss of Matilda, but the presence of both made them seem more like evidence of a character flaw.
Kaetrin: I ended up liking him. He had made mistakes and had changed and I found I could forgive that. He scored many points with me for being so fiercely on Matilda’s side. He wanted her to have what she wanted and he wanted others to see her as a person rather than just a kind of prop. He disliked, intensely, the dynamic between Matilda and her mother, the subservient way Matilda fussed and how that was constantly rebuffed. He was very angry on Matilda’s behalf.
He had wanted her to be visible. They were a decent lot, the Westcotts, but they had one collective shortcoming that had irritated him all evening. None of them saw Matilda. Oh, they did not ignore her. She was a part of their family and was included in all their activities and conversations. But none of them saw her. None of them, with the exception of her mother, had seen her, lovely and graceful, eyes bright, cheeks flushed with animation, dancing a minuet. None of them knew her.
However, there was too much hand-waving about what went on with Gil’s mother. The story, told by Gil, in the previous book (which was obviously his mother’s version of events) was quite different to Charles’ and there was no effort made to try and square that circle. I wanted more. I wanted to understand their relationship better. Charles says he thought Gil’s mother truly believed he would marry her but he never intended any such thing. I was confused about how both of those things could possibly be true.
Janine: Agreed. That was another thing that made me like Charles less than I wanted to. He seemed like someone who had dodged his responsibility–even if his version was true, he should still have stepped up and married Gil’s mother, so that his son would not be labeled a bastard.
Charles struck me as someone who had extricated himself out of his obligation, and I felt that his version of events was a continuation of that practice, if not on his part, then on the part of the author. To be honest, with a backstory like that, I would have preferred to see his character taken in a straight-up villainous direction and given a genuine redemption arc.
I loved Matilda, though. I love the way we began to get more and more hints into her inner life in the earlier books, starting with Someone to Care. There’s a shyness about her and yet she finds a way to stand up to her family both in this book and in earlier ones.
Kaetrin: I loved Matilda also. Though I thought she deserved better than this book.
She about broke my heart with some of her inner thoughts.
“It is nothing short of a miracle that Viscount Dirkson even found out about the custody hearing,” Wren said.
But it had not happened by a miracle, Matilda thought as she picked up her own cup and sipped her tea. There was nothing miraculous about her.
She was merely an appendage of her mother as she fussed over her, making sure she did not sit in a draft or overexert herself or get overexcited, though her mother resented her every attention. Sometimes, especially lately, Matilda wondered whether her mother needed her at all—or even loved her. It was a thought that depressed her horribly, for if the love and care she gave her mother were pointless, then what had been the purpose of her life?
Matilda managed not to come across as Eeyore though. She insight into herself during the course of the story.
Janine: I liked that insight too.
Kaetrin: I also adored Matilda’s latent feminism. She really came into her own and I was so happy to see her take her power back.
Janine: Hmm. I guess I wanted more of that. What we got was good, but
Kaetrin: I liked him well enough but I can’t say he made a strong impression upon me. What I liked most about him and about the other young people in the story, was how much they responded to Matilda’s humour and how much they enjoyed it and encouraged it.
Janine: I liked Adrian for getting angry with his father. [A] I felt that Dirkson deserved it. And [B] It was a fresh dynamic in a story that I otherwise felt was cliched.
Janine: To mention a separate issue, the thank you dinner for Dirkson was a tortured contrivance—even Dirkson acknowledged that as Gil’s father, he didn’t need to be thanked for merely doing what most fathers would have done for their children.
Kaetrin: I agree. The beginning section of the book felt clumsy. I usually sigh happily at the beginning of a Balogh book. Something about the language and anticipation of a good story I think. But here, I found myself a bit frowny because the story felt very underdeveloped to begin with.
As the story progressed however, I started to get into it and once Matilda and Charles began to spend time with one another, I felt that familiar Balogh happiness.
Janine: I was pulled in from the beginning, but beyond the characters’ age (both are 56) and the subplot about Charles’s decision to reveal his having fathered Gil to his other children, which provide some freshness, there was little new here. The events that separated Matilda and Charles were familiar. And for the most part the novel glosses over the conflict that the rift between Charles and Gil could have presented to Charles and Matilda’s courtship.
Kaetrin: Definitely agree. There was little conflict. I was expecting perhaps that the story would move towards healing the relationship (or, perhaps, it would be better said, creating a healthy relationship) between Gil and Charles and that readers would thus see Charles and Matilda settle into their relationship. But it just ended.
Janine: My biggest issue with Someone to Remember was its brevity. Although the back cover plainly states that this is a novella, I was confused by the packaging. In my print ARC, the novella is 149 pages followed by 107 pages of excerpts from earlier books in the series. And while the price is lower than the usual price for one of Balogh’s novels, $5.99 for the ebook is far above the typical price of a novella.
Kaetrin: You don’t even want to know how much this book costs in Australia Janine.
Janine: You’re right, I don’t want to know! The packaging led me to expect a novel. I didn’t realize was reading a novella until I had finished and was upset enough to reread the back cover and check to see if I had missed something. I had, but by then it was too late to reframe my reading experience.
Because of the total number of pages (excerpts included), I thought that more of a conflict would develop and when Matilda’s story ended less than 60% of the way into the ARC, Someone to Remember felt truncated on top of underdeveloped. I wanted more of a storyline for Matilda, but had I known going in that I was about to read a novella, I might have reacted differently and enjoyed it more.
Kaetrin: I saw on my ereader that the page count was 191 which was short anyway, but I was gobsmacked when the story ended at page 61%. I felt Matilda deserved a full novel. I wanted her story so badly. I was all #TeamMatilda and #JusticeforMatilda. I still am. It’s just that there’s no longer quite the victory cry behind the tone anymore.
Matilda was the best of the book but there wasn’t enough of her and there wasn’t enough for her to do.
Janine: Yes, I felt the same. The book needed more of a plot, something that would show Matilda taking a more active role, so that she could be a true hero. I found myself imagining a plot in which one of the young ladies in the book was wooed by a cad and Matilda and Charles, after their own shotgun wedding, drove after the younger couple to prevent the elopement, working out some residual issues of their own in the process.
When I write the heroine a different story in my head, I know that there’s a problem.
Kaetrin: I would have been all over that!!
For all that Someone to Remember was my least favourite of the series so far, I still nearly wore out my highlighter when I was reading it. There were many things to enjoy. Just not enough of them. Balancing all of that out, I’m landing at a C. Janine?
Janine: I was thinking of giving this a slightly higher grade, but the process of writing this review has spotlighted more issues for me. Balogh always sucks me in and she made Matilda even more luminous here, but that wasn’t enough. I’m going to go with a C/C+, because of how much I loved Matilda.
” I felt Matilda deserved a full novel. I wanted her story so badly. ” EXACTLY! I am very disappointed.
@LeeF: Yeah. It’s disappointing because Matilda Is a wonderful character *and* a heroine over the age of fifty. And I loved the way Balogh very gradually unveiled her heart in the previous books.
I would give about the same grade for some of the same issues. I disliked how his past failings were never really addressed. And may I add that I was also disappointed with the lack of on-page sex? Seems a bit ageist to me.
@LeeF: Well you already know what I think! LOL
@Claudia: Hear hear!
@Claudia: That’s a great point about the absence of sex. There wasn’t even off-page sex. I think the story was so short that a sex scene would have slowed down the pace of events too much, but in if the book had been longer (and I wanted that anyhow), room could have been made for it.
I don’t mind the absence of sex scenes, acyually, because very few authors write scenes I actually like, and with the exception of A Precious Jewel, Mary Balogh isn’t one of them. But there are a couple of things I need to get off my chest, both of them really dating back to the previous book, which I just finished reading. First, people addressing Gil as Lieutenant Colonel. Did the English ever do this? As the daughter of a lieutenant colonel, I can tell you that Americans sure don’t. I mean, yes, on envelopes, but not in conversations. “Colonel,” or “Colonel Bennington” only, please. And the never-ending name-plus-title, instead of just calling somebody “Lord Riverdale” is so stiff and stilted. And “Viscount Dirkson” (whose family name is “Sawyer”??? That actually drove me to look at Wikipedia’s list of Viscounts, and none of them has an occupational family name or a patronymic title. ( grant you there are earls of Shaftesbury named “Cooper,” but still . . .i don’t want to be unduly hard on Balogh, whose books are emotionally gripping, and she’s not as bad as the writer whose name i’ve Forgotten who gave us an ancient English family named (of all things) Sullivan, but I wish people would be more sensitive to the names and titles they give people, and the way they use forms of address.
@Etv13: I haven’t researched the forms and addresses for military officers In Regency England so I don’t know the answer to that question, but I have noticed that Balogh likes to use names and titles together. It gives a stiffness to the interactions that I think she wants. As for Viscount Dirkson’s Sawyer surname, that threw me too! I couldn’t figure out why. Thank you for pointing out that it’s an occupational family name.
I became curious and decided to read up on Viscounts, their names and titles. First off, there is a Viscount Davidson, but the title is newer (20th century).
Apparently there are a number of Butlers among the Irish nobility. For English/British/UK titles, I found a Mason (but the title has long been extinct) and a Parker (Viscount Parker, subsidiary title of the Earl of Macclesfield – though not the one from Julia Quinn’s book…).
It’s not obvious like Sawyer, but Spencer – as in the Earls Spencer, Princess Diana’s family – can also be considered an occupational name. The Dukes of Marlborough are also named Spencer (Spencer-Churchill, more specifically).
@Rose: I’m curious as to how many of these title/name combinations date as early as the Regency. I would think there might be more, percentage-wise, in later decades, due to the rise of the middle class with the Industrial Revolution. But I could very well be wrong.
Other than Viscount Davidson, the titles I found via Wikipedia are/were older. The Spencer earldom dates back to 1765, and the Parker viscountcy to 1721. The Mountgarret viscountcy in the peerage of Ireland was created in 1550, and they’ve all been Butlers (and not the only Butlers with Irish titles). Elizabeth Mason was created Countess of Grandison (also an Irish title) in her own right in 1767, and her son George Mason-Villiers inherited. The earldom became extinct upon his death in 1800.
I was not as turned off by Charles’ decision not to marry Gil’s mother as you were. We often complain about how historically inaccurate romance novels are when they have cross-class alliances, and the son of a viscount was not likely to marry the daughter of a blacksmith in Regency England. It could be argued that he was not clear with her and that she was too naive, but in light of the mores of the times it doesn’t indicate a deep level of villainy for him to refuse to marry her even after she became pregnant. Considering how many men totally abandoned their (misnamed, IMHO) love children, the fact that Charles tried to provide for Gil was actually a sign in his favor (see Fantine and her lover, Cosette’s father, for a counter example).
@SUSAN/DC: You’re absolutely correct that it would have been anachronistic for Charles to marry Gil’s mother. I had difficulty imagining how he even got to know her well enough to get her pregnant.
What my issue boils down to is that Charles is a romance hero and we are meant to believe that he will love and care for Matilda and be faithful and committed to her for the rest of his days. When you combine his actions vis-a-vis Gil and his mother with his rakishness, it’s hard for me to fully believe that. Especially given his unwillingness to protect his own son from the stigma of bastardy (My issue was more with his responsibility to Gil than with his responsibility to Gil’s mother).
I can see that it would have been a real bind for Balogh to portray Charles differently given the anachronism problem, though.
One way she could have handled it would have been for Charles to be unaware that he had a son until Gil’s mother was on her deathbed (cliched, I know), and then for him to try to take Gil in but for a surly Gil to still be angry at him or not bothering to find out if his mother had become pregnant (that, at least, is a lesser crime and could be laid at the foot of Charles’s youthfulness or a guilty conscience due to his love for Matilda, if Gil’s conception had happened shortly after Matilda’s rejection of his suit). Gil could also have been given the cold shoulder by Charles’s wife and other children, and that, combined with his anger at Charles, could have driven him to run away and join the army within weeks of when Charles took him in.
Another way would be to simply not make Charles a romance hero.
BTW, it’s great to see you here! It’s been ages since I’ve seen you post anywhere. Are you on Goodreads by any chance?
@Rose: Thank you! :)
ETA: Balogh once wrote a great book about a countess in her own right, Thief of Dreams.
@Rose: According to Britannica.com, “Butler” came over time to also mean a royal official, nominally in charge of the wine, but actually a person of high rank. That might account for the Irish Butlers.
@Janine, I agree, repeated references to, e.g., “Viola, the Marchioness of Dorchester” give Balogh’s writing a very stiff quality. It’s one of the Balogh tics that keeps me from reading more than one or two of her novels at a time. I also wonder whose viewpoint we’re getting those repeated references to names plus titles from. And on a related note, we still get “Aunt Viola” and “Aunt Louise.” Elizabeth Bennett’s favorite aunt is nevertheless “Aunt Gardiner.”
There was a really good post and comment thread about titles and forms of address on K.J. Charles’s blog some time ago. I wonder if it is too late to go there and ask about Lieutenant Colonels.
@Rose (again): Coming back to add that Spencer means “steward,” and that could be a high-ranking royal official, too. According to Wikipedia, the Spencers are not actually descended from Hugh le Dispenser, as some herald once claimed. How they came by the name the Wikipedia article leaves mysterious. Apparently they were keeping sheep as late as the fifteenth century.
@Etv13: That’s an interesting question about the POV. Some of Balogh’s books start with what reads like omniscient POV, but then delve into the character POVs very quickly, without changing character viewpoints within a scene, only during scene breaks or chapter breaks.
Does a character ever think of a close relative as “name, title” or is it only in the viewpoint of the person who is the outsider to the family, or a more distant relative? I would have to check the text to see.
Certainly, if Abby thought of her mother as “Viola, Countess of Dorchester,” it would be jarring, but if Gil thought of her that way it would be less so. Of course, it could also be a brief section in which we return to omniscient voice, but if there’s not enough signaling that we have done so, then I can understand how it would still jar the reader.
It is definitely a writing tic, and writing tics can irritate, all the more so when they stick out. Balogh was an acquired taste for me, and the first two or three books I tried I barely finished. Even after I found one I liked, it took me several books to get used to her style.
(She has other writing tics as well; a lot of repetitions in the internal monologues, and sometimes what I think of as distinctly un-romance-hero-like names for her heroes: Archie, Gerald, Freddy, etc. A reader once pointed out that in her earlier books, the heroes had a propensity to straighten the legs of the heroines after sex.)
Once I got used to the strangeness of her books, though, I got to really loving her voice. Isn’t it odd how that can happen? The stiffness that turns you off often works for me because it creates a sense of intimidation–that the POV character is intimidated by the titled character, or else that the titled character (esp if looking down his quizzing glass–another Balogh tic and one that I love) is doing his best to intimidate another character or characters. And of course if the titled character is making his/her first appearance in the book, it’s also a way to introduce them to a new reader.
Re. titles and forms of address–I tried to look it up and found that in Britain today the proper form of address for a Lieutenant Colonel would be “Colonel Surname.” So Gil, if he were serving now, would be addressed in speech as Colonel Bennington, regardless of having been a Lieutenant Colonel. Reference:
I haven’t been able to unearth a description of how a British Lieutenant Colonel would have been addressed in the Regency era. According to this website, prior to the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces in 1968, a lieutenant colonel was addressed first as “rank, name” (presumably “Lieutenant Colonel Gil Bennington” in Gil’s case) and thereafter as “Sir” or “Ma’am” by their subordinates. Canada being a British Commonwealth country, this may or may not be relevant.
I wonder if any of this applies to their social “superiors,” though.
@SUSAN/DC: I forgot to say earlier that I don’t see “a deep level of villainy” in Charles either. He’s not really villainous in my opinion, just kind of skeevy.
Going back to names, I think it’s kind of funny that Gil’s aristocratic father is named Sawyer, while his plebeian mother is named Bennington. I wonder how realistic it is that an illiterate blacksmith’s daughter would have named her son Gilbert. Would a nineteenth century (actually I suppose she lived most of her life in the eighteenth century) blacksmith’s daughter likely have been illiterate?
Heyer heroes often resorted to the quizzing glass, and could certainly be haughty when they chose to, but the narrator generally didn’t refer to them as “Gervase Frant, the Earl of St. Erth” or “Adolphus Ware, the Duke of Sale.” She does once say something to the effect that, instead of facing the fool of his family, a character found herself confronting the Honorable Frederick Standen. I think he may have been employing his quizzing glass, too.
And speaking of employing, did/do men really “employ” a mistress, as opposed to “keeping” one? I’ve never seen anyone but Balogh use “employ” in that way.
@Janine: Not quite sure why I’ve not commented lately, as I do read the reviews here. It’s not only Dear Author, however, as I’ve not commented much online anywhere. Perhaps Life has just got in the way.
Back to Charles: The way I think about him is that he was shallow and self-absorbed when young, and his response to Matilda’s rejection reflects that. Not unusual, especially for a young man of 20 (having raised 3 sons I’ve seen some of this firsthand). The brain isn’t completely mature until about 26, and I think some young men of the aristocracy were emotionally much younger than their chronological age because they were so coddled and expected to sow their wild oats with little or no regard for the consequences — especially if those suffering the consequences were female and of a lower social class. For Charles, I think maturity and empathy came when he had children with his wife. He was more involved than the usual aristocratic father, as is mentioned in the book, and I think his relationship with his 3 legitimate children made him aware of what he missed in his relationship with Gil and how Gil’s situation affected him (Gil). We can’t ignore that Charles tried to give Gil’s mother money, but she, understandably bitter (although I think she was incredibly naive to think he would marry her), rejected his offers of aid. She deserves some blame, therefore, not for being seduced and abandoned, but because Gil might not have gone hungry or without proper clothing if she had accepted.
All in all, I certainly don’t expect to change your mind, but I do enjoy the discussion and the chance to try to understand my own reaction to the book through articulating the arguments with you.
“Gil could also have been given the cold shoulder by Charles’s wife and other children, and that, combined with his anger at Charles, could have driven him to run away and join the army within weeks of when Charles took him in.”
Balogh wrote a book in which the hero is a bastard son living in his father’s house after his mother’s death, is hated by his father’s wife, doesn’t think much of his father, and runs away when he’s a teenager to join the army as a private soldier. It’s Beyond the Sunrise – but the circumstances are otherwise different from those of Gil and his mother.
It had not occurred to me to question any of the characters names. It’s not something that generally strikes me to be honest. I’m enjoying the discussion though!
@Etv13: The unexpected-direction contrast between Gil and Charles’s surnames struck me too. Good question about Gil’s mother’s literacy. Government-sponsored public education didn’t become a big thing in Britain until later on in the 19th Century and even then, girls often got a lesser education than boys. I have no idea what literacy rates for working class women were early in the 19th C.
I don’t have a problem with Balogh introducing her haughty characters differently than Heyer. Different authors rely on different techniques and often use them for different purposes, or to achieve different aims. My theory is that Balogh wants to imbue those interactions with stiffness or discomfort and just IMO, “name, title” serves that purpose well. I understand, though, that like any writing tic it can be an irritant.
Yeah, “employ” a mistress is interesting wording. In her early works Balogh also often used the verb “work” to describe sex, i.e. “he worked her.” It provided (just IMO) a blunt, unromantic take on what was happening there. Maybe she’s going for a similar effect with “employed.” It is not very romantic and she often uses the unromantic as a contrast to the romantic feelings that eventually develop between the main characters.
@Susan/DC: I had that sense since I hadn’t spotted you on any site in a long time and I missed your comments and posts.
I would agree about Charles except that he stuck to his rakish ways long after he got over Matilda. But this is why I say that if it has just been the Gil issue I could have gone with it. The two things together (Gil and post-Gil/Matilda rakishness) combined in my mind to make me view him as skeevy. That’s also why I would have preferred him to be made into a darker hero and given a redemptive arc.. Then Balogh could have tackled his treatment of women (or his dissolution if his character had been taken in that direction) head-on.
Agreed 100% on Gil’s mother. She should have absolutely taken Dirkson’s money and used it to provide for her son, rather than making young Gil pay for her and his father’s mistakes. She is very much to blame as well, but this doesn’t let Charles off the hook. Additionally, she is not a romance heroine, whereas Charles is a romance hero. So I have different standards for them.
Same here; I am enjoying the discussion too.
@Rose: Oh wow. I didn’t know that! I haven’t read Beyond the Sunrise. Do you think I would like it?
@Kaetrin: Between Sawyer in this thread and Fanny in the Pendle one, names seem to be the topic of the day, LOL. I’m not that nitpicky about names, unless it’s something glaring—for example if you give a character in a medieval romance a name like Vanessa, which was not coined until the early 1800s, or an English 19th century aristocrat a name like Farah, which is Persian in origin and was not in use in Europe among the nobility then (the latter is an example I came across in a book). Names are tricky for authors, because we have images that go along with them and that may convey something the author wants us to understand.
I can’t really say… it’s been years since I read Beyond the Sunrise, but the setup was distinctive enough that I recalled it. Most of the book then takes place in Portugal and possibly Spain during the Peninsular War, and it’s a reunited lovers romance (though both were very young in the first part).
@Rose It is indeed a distinctive setup. I may read it at some point. I need to get back to Balogh’s backlist anyhow.
@Janine: Fanny wouldn’t bother me. I understand it was a relatively common name at the time, whatever the association with the name now.
@Janine: I think “employ” was a very deliberate choice. I think the modern day idea of a “mistress” is about illicit romance but mistresses back in the day were, I believe, a practical way of getting regular sex, probably a little more safely than via prostitutes. Mistresses were sex workers though and they were paid for their work – houses, an allowance, gifts. Employ fits I think.
I hope I’m wrong, but was the publisher worried about the characters’ ages for a full-length book?
I’m still finishing the book before this one, so haven’t got to it yet, but this might just be my most anticipated read of the year (hence the fact I didn’t read the spoilers – even though I was tempted to!).
@Kaetrin: Yeah, I think it’s a deliberate choice too, although Etv13 is correct that “keep” was much more common. Keep implies all the same things mentioned as well, but I think “employ” takes the romance out of the equation better.
@Sonya Heaney: I wondered that too—if the publishers or Balogh felt that readers wouldn’t go for a full-length book with characters In their fifties.
Kaetrin and I also had high anticipation for this one. We emailed when the description was first posted on Amazon and squeed about it. I hope you like it better than we did. I would love to hear what you think when you get around to reading it.