Oh, Georgette Heyer, how I wanted to like you! How I wanted to find your writing delightful, engaging and witty and your stories compelling and absorbing. How I looked forward to returning to the world of Jane Austen’s novels through such a prolific author that I could stay in that world for months of reading without ever having to be disturbed by more modern times and writing. How disappointed I was, then, when I finished April Lady and found that it was none of the things that I had been anticipating so eagerly.
April Lady tells the story of Nell who is married to the wealthy Lord Cardross. Nell’s brother is a notorious gambler and, when he finds himself unable to pay his debts, Nell steps in to help him, leaving herself unable to pay the extravagant bills for dresses and hats that she has accumulated out of her quarterly allowance from Cardross. Unwilling to tell her husband that she has given the money to her brother, Nell leads him to believe that she herself has been gambling, preferring to incur his disapproval at her actions than his anger towards her brother. He magnanimously pays off all her debts for her, but when Nell discovers another unpaid bill she has forgotten about she finds herself unable to tell him in case he is angry and thinks that she only married him for his money, and so she tries to find ways to raise the money herself with some quite disastrous consequences. At the same time, Cardross has to deal with his sister Letty who has fallen in love with an unsuitable young man lacking in fortune and status but is determined to marry him, whatever it takes.
I did not get on with this book at all, probably because I find the romantic trope in which hero and heroine are deeply in love but each is convinced of the other’s indifference and neither will confess their love despite no obstacles to said affection incredibly annoying. It’s a tired plot that needs either strong characters or great writing to make it come alive and seem fresh and sadly I didn’t find either of those features in April Lady. Instead, what I found was stock characters going through the motions of a formulaic plot, described in lacklustre terms which left me completely unmoved. There is too little social interaction or introspection which might lead to character development, replaced by too much melodrama and wringing of hands. There are a few amusing incidents, such as Nell’s brother holding up her coach dressed as a highwayman in one of the more ridiculous schemes to raise money, but the overall impression that I was left with was that this book was just ok, nothing more. I will say that Heyer has done her research and that the period of the book feels authentic, but I was too irritated at the lack of interesting story to appreciate this properly.
I know that there are a lot of people out there who love Georgette Heyer, and I’m perfectly willing to give her another try if this is considered a particularly poor effort on her part. If however this is standard Heyer fare then I’m going to have to conclude that this writer just isn’t for me, which is fine. I also have Powder and Patch and The Talisman Ring waiting on my shelves; am I likely to enjoy either of these any more than I did this one? Help me out here, Heyer fans.
April Lady by Georgette Heyer. Published by Pan, 1970, pp. 238. Originally published in 1957.