Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: An Infamous Marriage by Susanna Fraser


Their marriage started out on the wrong foot: two strangers brought together by a death-bed promise to a childhood friend. Jack barely had time to settle Elizabeth and charge her with the care of his ailing mother before leaving again to serve in Canada -- and leaving their marriage unconsummated -- for five long years.

Five years have passed, and, through the letters they exchanged, Jack has grown to appreciate Elizabeth, who managed his household and estate in his absence. He has returned home from war, a hero, and eager to renew his wife's acquaintance and to begin their married life properly.

But there are hindrances to Jack and Elizabeth's reunion: Jack has been unfaithful in his five-year separation from Elizabeth -- and Elizabeth knows about it.

Jose Luis Borges said, "To fall in love is to create a religion with a fallible god" -- Jack and Elizabeth stumble through their marriage and let very human emotions affect them: pride, hurt, vanity, etc. But what is beautiful about Fraser's story is that she shows how we recover from such setbacks as well. In so doing, proves how limited and how limitless we are when it comes to love.

As a young man, Jack Armstrong was lanky and awkward and no one seemed to appreciate him except his uncle Sir Richard, who gave him direction. But Jack has a wonderful and optimistic attitude and this helped him weather through the rejections of his childhood and early adulthood.

I loved Jack. He is a great mix of humility and authority. He could have stayed at the Grange and enjoyed a peaceful, prosperous life -- but he isn't one to settle -- instead, he gave up his comfortable life in order to serve his country. Similarly, in his marriage, he could have maintained the status quo because he didn't owe Elizabeth anything, but his willingness to work out his marriage made him an endearing and heroic hero for me.

What would best please her and purchase her forgiveness from whichever of his failings has come to her notice? Jewels? A fine, fashionable shawl of the kind she'd be unlikely to find outside London?

...

Still, he didn't want to face her empty-handed. Elizabeth liked to read, he remembered that much, and he'd noticed half the tiny library she'd brought with her to the Grange was composed of books of travels. That was it. He'd visit a bookshop, choose something new she'd likely enjoy and supplement it with a necklace or a ring to prove he wasn't cheap.
- pp. 67-68

In the same way, Elizabeth also blossoms during her marriage to Jack -- and found security in it after living a life of uncertainty because of her father. Like Jack, she didn't owe him anything -- but she was steadfast and conscientious in her care of his mother and of the Grange. I could imagine how shattering it is to discover that your husband was unfaithful -- and to discover it in the manner in which Elizabeth did.

Dreams come true were [sic] for other people. Since that day when her father had been caught in is crimes, when the scandal had made all the hopes she'd held as a girl of sixteen impossible, she had been marked for drudgery interspersed with the occasional nightmare.
- p. 34

I like Fraser's writing style. It reminds me of Sherry Thomas and of Courtney Milan -- that sort of enchanting, evocative narration that draws you in and keeps you there until the very end. Similar to Thomas's Ravishing the Heiress, Fraser uses flashbacks to fill in the details of Elizabeth and Jack's married life -- but where Millie and Fitz were always together, Elizabeth and Jack were apart for five years. Like striking flint and steel, their reunion created sparks and kindled passions that never had a chance to bloom five years before:

"One of us must speak," he ground out between gritted teeth.

"And now you have." Was that a flicker of amusement, evanescent in those marvelous eyes? "Pray continue," she added.

"Have you nothing to say, madam?"

"On the contrary. There is much I could say. But I am eager to hear what you have to say for yourself."

One would almost think she was the aggrieved party. "You began this."

"Indeed? Began what, sir?"
- p. 72

The most vivid part was how the author depicted the Peninsular/Napoleonic Wars. Her description and details were amazing but, what impressed me more, was how Fraser always kept the focus on Elizabeth and Jack.

Yet as she listened to the distant thunder of battle she could never forget that she'd sent a soldier, a commander, out with words of anger and hate ringing in his ears, and that whatever his sins, a soldier going out to fight deserved blessings and not curses.
- p. 220

I really enjoyed this story. I loved the heartfelt description and the emotions that it inspires. After I finished reading this book, I immediately took a look at her two other books -- and I am very, very tempted to get them. ^_^

To find out more about Susanna Fraser and her books, visit her website. Take time to check out her blog, I love reading her entries. She is also on Facebook and on Goodreads.



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