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Following Julia Quinn and the idea of comfort reads, Jennifer McQuiston is another author whose books I can count on to lift up my spirits. I read Diary of an Accidental Wallflower when I was recovering from that procedure in early March and, in true Jennifer McQuiston fashion, for that one moment, I truly forgot my discomfort.
Clare Westmore is the most popular girl of this Season, and she has set her cap on Mr. Charles Alban, heir of the Duke of Harrington. All evidence points to Clare's receiving a proposal before the Season ends, and she is basking in the glory of her near-success.
Until she sprains her foot and is forced to sit out the rest of the Season.
In Jennifer McQuiston's latest offering, she explores the question: What happens to the popular girl when she is no longer popular? It's a relevant question even in our time where a person's value and identity is gauged by how well he/she is accepted in society.
Clare has successfully cultivated her image: she's perfected her conversation, her hair and clothes -- her whole self, in order to snag the most eligible bachelor of the Season. The accident literally sidelines Clare -- and she's finally able to see her social world from the outside in.
And what Clare discovers surprises her. It isn't as disastrous or terrible as she thought it would be. In fact, she finds that there are very good benefits to being a wallflower:
- she can be herself.
- she can see who her real friends are.
- she can keep company with Dr. Daniel Mercer
It's the third benefit that Clare enjoys the most -- but, like all good things, it comes at a price. Clare is the daughter of a viscount, and Daniel is a doctor who serves the Ton. The social divide is wide, and there's more that Clare needs to consider: her family is harboring a deep, dark, potentially-ruinous secret, and one social misstep might mean that the whole house of cards tumble down around Clare, her sister, her brother,and their parents. Marrying well (read: marrying Mr. Alban) would protect Clare and her family.
The gem of this story is Dr. Daniel Mercer. I love how down-to-earth and humble he is, and how he genuinely cared for Lady Austerely's well-being.
It had not escaped his notice that he was one of Lady Austerely's most frequent -- indeed, one of her only -- visitors. Her husband was long dead, and their forty year union had not been blessed with children. The cousin who had inherited her husband's title never came to call.
- Chapter 2
It's nice how McQuiston plays with the idea of "noble" and sharply contrasts the behaviour or nobility and one who answered a noble calling -- who is the truly noble one? Which one is more honourable? Is it the one who gained it by virtue of birth? Or the one who earned it?
The relationship that develops between Clare and Daniel is an enlightening one -- Clare learns so much about herself from Daniel. Daniel helps Clare understand her younger siblings better, and to understand herself better -- and to cure her of her snobbery. Daniel helps Clare realise that there is more to a person than a title and wealth
... "Honestly, Sophie, was it necessary to be so cruel? He's done naught to earn our ire."
"Oh, don't look so glum," Sophie chided. She flicked her fan open and fluttered it lazily below her green eyes. "Truly, the occasional set-down is the best thing all around for him. Have you forgotten the debacle last year, when he had the gall to think you might consider his proposal?" The air rang with her light laughter. "It isn't as though he should harbor hopes for anything beyond the occasional dance where we are concerned."
Clare held her tongue. It was true she had set her sights higher than a proposal from Meeks, but that did not mean she thought it was all right to snub him. There were some in the crowd who thought she should have accepted his proposal, her mother among them. After all, Mr. Meeks had an annual income of two thousand pounds and would one day be a viscount, the same title as her own father. There was potential there, to be sure.
But Sophie had decided, based on some unfathomable criteria only she knew, that Mr. Meeks was not within their sphere.
- Chapter 3
Which leads to the big question for Clare: about what she stands to gain and what she stands to lose if she pursues the relationship with Daniel. It is not a one-sided concern -- there's also a lot at stake for Daniel. Even before their first kiss, questions swirl about Daniel's intentions: is he a fortune-hunting social climber, who will use Clare to further his career? Will he lose his integrity as a doctor if he starts catering to the shallow whims of the titled class?
What seemed like a light and fluffy read now becomes a thoughtful discussion on class, family, and keeping up appearances. In the end, what makes this a wonderful read is how McQuiston balances commentary and romance. At the end of the day, by the final page, this is still a truly soul-satisfying, truly enjoyable love story.
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