Lady Farquhar's Butterfly by Beverley Eikli

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Lady Farquhar's Butterfly by Beverley Eikli

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: A somewhat unlikely plot set in the early 19th century involving a scandalous widow, a sanctimonious clergyman and the widow's late husband's cousin Max.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
ISBN: 978-0709090571

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Olivia - Lady Farquhar - has recently been widowed. This does not upset her in the least; indeed, as becomes clear through the novel, her husband was an unpleasant bully who subjected her to all kinds of abuse. Unfortunately, however, the terms of his will have ensured that her beloved toddler Julian has been taken away to live with his uncle Max until such time as Olivia marries someone considered to be above reproach. For that reason, she is seriously considering marrying Nathaniel, a clergyman who has helped her for many years. The only problem with that is that she finds him increasingly repulsive...

As the novel opens, Olivia plans to fall deliberately from her horse in her cousin-in-law's estate, in the hope of getting to know him a little better so that she will have some idea of how to persuade him to give Julian back to her. She has no idea about Max's character, and seems to change her mind from one moment to the next. Sometimes she is convinced he is as horrible as her late husband; other times she finds him charming, and decidedly attractive. She does not let him know who she is; it was never explained why they did not already know each other. Since Julian is so young, and hasn't seen Olivia for nearly a year, he doesn't recognise her either.

Just to add to Olivia's difficulties, the world seems to believe that she indulged in licentious behaviour of a kind that would have shocked the world in the early 19th century, when this book is set. And it turns out that she does indeed have a decidedly shady past...

I want to be fair to this book. I was willing to accept the rather unlikely premise of Olivia's past and her husband's will. I could accept that she was very confused, wanting to convince Max of her suitability as a mother, but prepared to marry Nathaniel in order to have access to Julian again. I could accept the rather extreme melodrama towards the end. I have, after all, read and enjoyed classics such as Jane Eyre, which rely heavily on melodrama and shaky plot-lines.

Unfortunately, I found much of the writing rather trite. Particularly in the early chapters, the author spent a great deal of time telling us what everyone felt and thought, without really showing why. While feeling sorry for Olivia, I found her constant confused train of thoughts rather annoying. There are too many hints at her past, which is gradually revealed through the book; one hint would have been sufficient to intrigue me. There is no rationale behind her conviction that Max must be the same kind of person as his cousin, since he treats her with courtesy and care. Nor does there seem to be any reason for her hiding her identity, nor in her agreeing to stay for a while and then vanishing without explanation.

Still, the characters are mostly fairly well-rounded. I did like Max, and once the action had started I found myself warming more to Olivia too, although she didn't seem quite consistent as a person. Nathaniel is a rather typecast overbearing and sanctimonious clergyman whose personality becomes less pleasant as the book progresses. Olivia's aunts are likeable enough, though a little too much in the background, and most of the other people in the book were fairly believable.

It's not in the league of Georgette Heyer; she set the standard for this genre of women's historical fiction that nobody else, in my view, has ever reached. But it's a fast-paced story that I started to enjoy more once I was about half-way through, and the melodramatic ending is satisfactory, even if the outcome was predictable almost from the start.

Thanks to the publishers for sending the book.

If you enjoy light historical fiction of this kind, you might also like reading When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James and Poacher's Moon by Ann Cliff.

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