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When I first met Flavian in Hugo's book, I wondered what happened to him and why he was part of The Survivors' Club because he didn't seem to belong there. The rest of the members (except for Flavian and Imogen) were clearly/visibly injured by the war: Benedict is crippled, Vincent is blind, Ralph is scarred, but Flavian only has his stutter -- and, even in the previous books, he didn't seem to have been affected that much by his experiences because he was jolly and light-hearted -- always teasing Vincent and his musical aspirations.
Now that I've read Flavian's story, I wonder how he could've survived what had happened to him: getting shot in the head, then falling off his horse (and landing on his hand) and then getting trampled. It is a miracle that the only reminder/remainder from his injuries is a stutter and some gaps in his memory. One of the greatest gaps in his memory is the circumstances of his brother's death, his relationship with Velma Frome, and his return to the Peninsula, which resulted in his devastating and near-life-ending injury.
In most stories, the key to the soul of a damaged/tortured hero is to look at those moments that shaped his character and personality -- but, in Flavian's case, I was a bit worried and afraid to unravel him. It is clear that he has been to hell and back, so why ask that he revisit it? Why dredge up all those painful memories and run the risk of shattering him? The state of his memory is both a blessing and a curse, and we secretly hope, for our hero's sake, that he has forgotten the worst of his ordeal.
As more and more members of The Survivors' Club find love and a reason to move forward in their lives, Flavian slowly considers his next move and it seems that the stars are finally aligning in Flavian's favour: Velma Frome (now the widowed Lady Hazeltine) is coming out of her year of mourning and their families are eager to get them "reacquainted", but Flavian isn't sure this is what he wants in his life right now and is grateful for the short respite (annual meeting) with his friends at Middlebury Park, Vincent's estate. It is the same mistake the people in Flavian's life make: they assume that the war is over, that he has survived, and that he has recovered, and that all is well. But, like the other members of The Survivors' Club, Flavian knows that he is still fighting a battle (a greater one inside of him) and that all is not well. We see in their stories the many different shades of guilt, of loss, of fear, of shame, etc -- but, in those same instances, we see the radiance of hope and determination.
He meets Agnes at Middleburg Park (for a second time) and it's very telling that he can remember some details about her, considering that they had only spoken briefly and shared two dances a few months ago. Agnes Keeping seems unassuming upon first glance: a proper widow now living with her spinster older sister in a small, quiet, provincial town -- there doesn't seem to be much to her story, but Mary Balogh shows us that we are mistaken in our assumptions. Agnes is a woman of surprising depth and passion. My favourite scene of Agnes is of the daffodils, and how she wasn't satisfied with her already-wonderful painting of the daffodils and had decided to view the daffodils from a different point of view.
...she knew she was seeing only half the picture and maybe not even that much. For the trumpets of the daffodils were lifted to the sky. The petals about them faced upward. If the flowers could see, as in a sense she supposed they could, then it was the sky, rather than the grass beneath them, upon which they gazed. She, on the other hand, was looking down upon the flowers and the grass.She turned her face upward to see that the sky was pure blue, with not a cloud in sight. But now, of course, she could no longer see the daffodils.
- Chapter 3
Flavian needed someone like Agnes, someone who has been tested and strengthened by her own life experiences -- someone who views the world a little bit differently because of those experiences.
This morning she had been wearing a simple cotton dress and no bonnet. Her hair had been caught back in a plain knot at her neck. Her posture had been prim and self-contained, her expression placid. He had tried to tell himself that she was quite without sexual appeal, that he must be very bored indeed out here in the country if he was weaving fantasies about a plain, prim, virtuous widow.
Except that he was not bored. ...
And she was not plain. Or prim. And if she was virtuous -- and he did not doubt she was -- she was also full to the brim of repressed sexuality.
- Chapter 6
And Agnes needs someone like Flavian. Agnes is so afraid to step beyond her comfort zone, because she is afraid to get hurt or be betrayed. Passion is Agnes's problem. She has never experienced it and doesn't want to, so she made a sensible (but passionless) first marriage. Her mother surrendered to her passions and it destroyed their family and Agnes doesn't want that to happen to her, which is why Agnes needs someone like Flavian, who has been to the breaking limits of life, felt the most extreme of all emotions, embraced madness and betrayal and helplessness, and survived.
"You fear passion?" he asked her.
"Because it is uncontrolled," she cried. "Because it is selfish. Because it hurts -- other people if not oneself. I do not want passion. I do not want uncertainty. U do not want you yelling at me. Worse than that, I do not want me yelling back. I cannot stand it. I cannot stand this."
- Chapter 11
Daffodils represent the opportunity that each one presents to the other. As time passes, the daffodils will fade and wither and give way to the changing seasons -- Agnes only has this chance to paint these flowers properly. And Flavian only has this chance to be with Agnes. Flavian knows that, when he leaves Middlebury Park, he will have to accede to his family's wishes and end up with Velma. It might seem that this is what he had wanted and waited for all these years, but Flavian cannot shake the doubts and questions that loom in his mind. It's truly amazing how memory is both fragile and incredibly resilient -- how it can be lost and recreated, and how it can be recovered and etched forever in our memories.
The flirtation and courtship comprise a huge chunk of this book, but there's a reason for it: as the blurb mentions, there are doubts about Flavian's motives for pursuing Agnes. Is it petty revenge against Velma? Is it rebellion against his family's expectations? It's difficult to discuss this part without spoiling it, and I've been sitting and writing this review for three days now, trying to figure out a way to talk about the latter part of the story, but I can't.
I've mentioned in my other reviews of Mary Balogh's books, I am in absolute awe of her talent. Her stories unfold so naturally, like the petals of a flower (a daffodil, perhaps? ^_^) and continue to delight days after you have reached the end and put the book down. There really is so much more to say about how amazing this book is, but I will leave it with this: this story promises enchantment, and it delivers. ^_^
Only Enchanting is Book 4 in Mary Balogh's The Survivors' Club series. To find out more about Mary Balogh and her books, click below: