Publication date: June 28, 2011
Publisher: Pocket Books
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Meredith Duran's writing has a way to make one feel, to experience vicariously through the characters intense emotions that transcend the pages of this novel. For that, I would rate her writing and accurate but gruesome depictions of London's seediest areas 10 stars on a scale of 5.
Duran's characters are also written with an astounding complexity and wit. Simon and Nell's thoughts are always true to their own way of thinking, Simon's as a cynical man looking for revenge, and Nell as a sentimental realist who dreams but cannot believe her good fortunes will last. A great part of the story is completely character-driven, as the plot is a simple one: Simon discovers Nell to be the long-lost daughter of his predecessor, so he devises a marriage of convenience that will provide him with much needed wealth, and take Nell out of being a guttersnipe if she can prove her inheritance. What follows then is a battle of wills, resulting in each discovering the other's charming and irresistible sides, and realizing, not without surprise, that their circumstantial differences may indeed be too wide to be overcome by mere love.
Due to both Simon and Nell's having been raised in a rather hostile environment, they undoubtedly have trouble trusting each other. Nell's wits have been honed by years of fending for herself on the streets, serving as a facade to her vulnerability and insecurities. Simon is just even tougher than Nell, having developed a harsh cynical outlook on life that does not go well with his being a nearly destitute aristocrat. Even as he begins to enjoy Nell's company, tutoring her in the ways of a lady, and succumbing to his sexual desires for her, he remains the cold, pragmatic aristocrat for most of the book.
Then, they get married, and a honeymoon period follows for a while, to only be disturbed by Nell's realizations of Simon's initial willingness to turn her out were the courts to deny her heritage. The last quarter of the book became more plot-driven, coupled with the characters' reluctance to say "I love you," which thankfully, was not prolonged. The change from Nell's trying to keep Simon due to her love, to her leaving him twice for "his own sake," heightened what I felt was the ubiquitous chasm of their stations; Simon's inability to comprehend some of Nell's behavior and beliefs, through no fault of his own but for the difference in their nurturing environment, became more apparent when he could not reconcile the depth of his feelings for Nell.
Perhaps it is the fact that Simon's confession of love to Nell seemed so visceral, so desperately made, that it loses plausibility when he had, in the span of just some pages ago, been a highly ruthless and pragmatic man, a model of Machiavellian principles. And after his earth-shattering confession, he was giving Nell the choice to leave him and pursue her freedom. While on one hand this was done as a show of trust, it appeared rather farcical given Simon's earlier exhibition of male dominance to keep Nell by his side. But, in the end, Simon resorted to noble idiocy, and gave Nell a reason to leave him while effectively trapping her to his world with her love:
"I have no interest any longer in playing the tyrant. But if you want me, you will have to take my world along with me." (p 1148/1178)
The indecisiveness of the two characters - Simon's noble idiocy and Nell's noble, but unnecessary self-sacrifice at the end of the book, appeared as an overly dramatic proving of love; a change in the book's hitherto splendid pacing.
Despite the above, this is a beautifully written story telling an incredible love that could well have served as a treatise on Victorian class differences, but for its dramatized theme -- whether love can bridge the gap between class differences -- I found the story's resolution too rushed and neatly done to be plausible. Nevertheless, I have so enjoyed being lured into this story by Meredith Duran's superb storytelling that I can't bear give this book any rating lower than 4 stars.
Rating: 4.5 tulips