Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner


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When their employers married each other, Sukey Grimes, Phoebe Sparks's maid, and John Toogood, Nick Dymond's valet, both found themselves out of a job. Sukey was able to bounce back quickly, but John isn't having the same amount of luck: in a small and simple town like Lively St. Lemeston, there's very little demand for a valet -- and, with Nick's mother, Lady Tassel, openly expressing her displeasure with her son's marriage, John discovers that his prospects for a job in London are also a bit bleak.

With his funds dwindling, he decides to rent the same room that Phoebe Sparks just vacated -- and finds himself re-acquainted with Sukey Grimes. In his previous life, John would never have spoken to Sukey, maid of all work -- as a "gentleman's gentleman", John's interaction was limited to one person, and, being employed by the Dymonds also meant a bit more exclusivity. It's interesting to see that, much like the titled class, there also exists a hierarchy (and snobbery) among the servants -- where a maid-of-all-work like Sukey would never have had the opportunity to interact with a higher-ranking valet. But Sukey, with her Sussex tongue and innate cheekiness, is undeniably charming and refreshing -- and is, literally, the first person John has allowed into his world in a very long time.

John is 40, and Sukey is 22 -- he's old enough to be her father, and John is torn between caring for Sukey as a father would a daughter, and caring for her as a lover because the attraction is there, and it is mutual. The age gap is just one of the many differences between them: John is urbane and cosmopolitan, having grown up at the Tassel Hall with the Dymond family, and Sukey is unsophisticated. How they speak, and how they think, and how they behave are worlds apart.

Sukey is always one mistake away from getting sacked, so she's very careful with her money and very careful with her heart. Her father is the greatest absence and the greatest influence in her life -- because of how he abandoned her and her mother to start a new family far away, Sukey is cynical about love and relationships. It's easy for her to work at a boarding house where people come and go so often, because she doesn't want to form attachments to anybody. She has her mother, but they're both busy trying to survive and to make a living, that they only see each other once a week, and only for a portion of half the day. Sukey is a walking antithesis: she engages people, but she keeps them at arm's length.

I love how the author is able to expand on the very practical concerns that affected the lives of the working classes: John finally gets a lead on a job, but it is for the position of butler at the vicar's house, and the vicar requires the butler to be married. John's father is the Dymond's butler at Tassel Hall, and it's a position that John swore he would never, ever occupy. He saw how it consumed his father completely, at the cost of alienating his own family and losing what few friends he had. But, beggars can't be choosers -- so John seeks an interview with Reverend Summers. The second requirement is marriage, and, again, I love how the author appropriates the wealthy class's notion of "marriages of convenience" and applies it those in service. When Sukey hears of John's (business) proposal, she realizes that it is a very good opportunity for her: she will be promoted to upper housemaid, and, working in a bigger household, means a chance for further advancement. Then there's the extra, added bonus of being John's wife.

It seems to be an ideal agreement, but, John and Sukey soon discover that it truly is difficult to mix business with pleasure. John's worst fears about himself comes true: he is like his father, and his obsession for perfection and efficiency does not make him popular in their very small household of 6 (not counting the vicar) -- and he feels a sense of betrayal when Sukey sometimes takes the side of the other servants.

Sukey wants to enjoy her work, but John, as butler, demands so much of her (and the rest of the staff), and she wants to speak up: but how does she distinguish the conversation a wife has with her husband, in which they are both on equal grounds, and the conversation a maid has with the butler, in which case the butler has the power to sack her for her insubordination?

Listen to the Moon is a complex, and thoughtfully written romance, and there's just so much to talk and love about it. Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy reading about the day-to-day drama in the vicarage, as John tries to manage (and control) two very young maids, one with a rebellious streak, and one who is melancholy, a foreign cook, and a very impressionable, but trainable footman.

Perhaps the absolute best part for me was when Rose Lerner promises, in her author's notes, that there are "more books on their way". Yay~ ^_^

This is book 3 in Rose Lerner's Lively St. Lemeston series. To find out more about the author and her books, click below:
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