Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck - Kathleen Y'Barbo


Making her debut into London society, Charlotte Beck receives more than she bargained for when she tumbles out of a window into the arms of Viscount Alexander Hambly. The American heiress and English noble find their lives forever entwined as a result of the night’s events, much to the dismay of both parties. Charlotte is known for her inappropriate antics, and while she’d like to escape from the expectations of her parents – a suitable marriage, home and family – by attending university, her father has other plans for her. Charlotte is to marry Alex, whom her father has a business proposition for. Although her father insists that she is not simply a pawn in a financial deal, and that he believes Alex is the perfect match for her, being the only man who can control her and make her stop talking, Charlotte is still unhappy with these plans. It is only when her father and her betrothed promise her that she may attend university before getting married that she agrees to the arrangement. But four years is not as long as she expected, and when she returns to her parents’ home she discovers that no one has forgotten her impending marriage, and there is no escaping it – unless she can convince her new husband to agree to an annulment. But Alex has not forgotten Charlotte and how amusing her teenage antics used to be. Without either of them realising it, Charlotte has already stolen his heart, and he is determined to show her exactly why she should remain married to him.

Charlotte is the sort of character will have you laughing out loud, no matter how restrained you try to be while reading this book. Her escapades – entirely inappropriate for a young woman of good breeding – were hilarious to read about, as were her interactions with Alex and his family. Alex and Charlotte have brilliant chemistry together, even if neither of them realised it to begin with. I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of this book, where Charlotte and Alex slowly get to know each other through Charlotte’s little accidents and near social suicides. They are certainly unusual characters for a historical novel, with Alex’s interest in astronomy and Charlotte’s painting skills being well thought out and described. In a way, Charlotte and Alex are two misfits in the world of courtship and balls, making them perfect for each other.

I also enjoyed the dual setting of this novel and reading about the characters experiences in both London and Denver. I’ve not read many historical novels written by American authors but set in Britain, so this definitely made a nice change. It was interesting to read about the differences between London and New York society, the debutantes, clothing of the period and expected etiquette for young ladies. The pieces of etiquette wisdom given at the start of each chapter are absolutely hilarious, as are Charlotte’s attempts to succeed in achieving them.

While I did love the characters, settings and events of the first part of this novel, I really felt let down by the latter part. As the second section of the novel begins, Charlotte returns from university to live with her parents pending her marriage to Alex. I’d been really looking forward to reading about Charlotte and Alex managing to adapt to married life, which I imagined would be a lot of fun to read about, giving their shenanigans in the first part of the book. However, in the four years that have passed between Part I and II of the novel, Charlotte’s character had undergone a complete transformation. I imagine that Kathleen simply wanted to show how Charlotte had grown up, but she had none of the spunk or ingenuity of the previous Charlotte. To be honest, most of the time she just came across as grumpy or selfish, and the chemistry between her and Alex was completely gone. Alex, on the other hand, was exactly the same as he had been in the first part of the book, which just succeeded in showing how entirely different Charlotte’s character was.

My other complaint with the second part of the book is that Charlotte suddenly has a fear of getting married, brought on by something mysterious that apparently happened to her biological mother during her marriage to Charlotte’s father, who is now remarried. This mysterious “something” had never before been alluded to in the book (or if it had, not enough for me to pick up on it) and seemed to come completely out of the blue. It was as if the author had felt that Charlotte needed a reason for her distrust of marriage, and threw this fear into the story in order to validate Charlotte’s behaviour. To make everything even more confusing, the whole issue is wrapped up two or three chapters after Charlotte’s fear is first revealed, when she has a discussion with her father and coincidentally just happens to come across a letter from her grandfather that explains everything. Then, of course, her fear is gone and she can stop being so harsh to Alex. Maybe if Charlotte’s misconceptions about marriage and the mystery surrounding her father’s first wife had been incorporated better into the story as a whole I wouldn’t have minded this part of the novel so much, but as it is I really felt that this part of the plot needed to be expanded in order for it to feel credible and not so rushed. On the whole, I think that the second section of the book needed to be at least fifty pages longer as all of the events felt a bit rushed and quite detached from the first part of the book. At times, it actually felt like I was reading an entirely different book.

While The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck began with a promising start, the section of the novel that focused on the actual marriage between Charlotte and Alex was a letdown. The chemistry between the characters petered out due to Charlotte’s change in personality, and events were rushed to their conclusion by the introduction of a mysterious and previously non-existent plot device that was over and done with far too conveniently. I’m afraid that I was a bit disappointed by this book, although more the second section than the book as a whole. Charlotte and Alex were originally wonderful characters, but their personalities seem to have got a bit lost along the way. Although I didn’t love this book, I would consider reading others by Kathleen Y’Barbo in the future as she creates great characters and families. Perhaps the difficulties I had with this book were not due to her writing but the four year gap between the two parts, in which much goes unexplained.

Review title provided courtesy of Waterbrook Press.

1 comment:

  1. The first time you meet Charlotte Beck in 'A Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper', she is a spunky, precocious ten year old prone to misbehaving. Then in 'Anna Finch and the Hired Gun', she is a fifteen/sixteen year old trying to act years ahead of her time. Now in 'The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck', you see a woman of eighteen, trying to please her family and act in a way more acceptable to society.