The Country Mouse
The Country Mouse tells a love story at a very leisurely pace. There are books that build slowly, and books that build s-l-o-w-l-y. The Country Mouse could probably be better described as The Meandering Mouse.
The country mouse in question is Miss Lavinia Taylor, who is really a town mouse who hopes to move to the country. She has a menagerie of rescued animals and dislikes the smells and crowding in London. When her agent finds a property in the Cotswold village of Painswick, Lavinia is more than eager to make the move. Once she has settled in her new home she begins to realize that she’s going to need more in her life then the animals. So she does what any single woman would do in regency England – she begins to look around for a potential mate.
One man she immediately discounts as a possibility is Charles Templeton, a Marquess who’s recently come to his estate to escape a brewing scandal in London. Lavinia’s reasons for keeping Templeton off her list really come down to the fact that she thinks he’s clumsy. He’s clumsy, in her mind, because he crashed his carriage on a country back road. When debating on whether to invite Lord Templeton to a garden party she is arranging, Lavinia muses:
It would be interesting to see how the inept Lord Templeton was getting on in the country. She hoped for his sake that he had managed to overcome the clumsiness she had witnessed in him.
This after one meeting with the man! Her reluctance to consider him could better be explained by his rudeness during their interchange, but what really sticks in her mind is his accident. Later events confirm her view of him as clumsy, even though there’s an obvious explanation for every one of them.
Lavinia does have some enjoyable exchanges with Templeton, but unfortunately they don’t happen often enough. She helps him after his accident and they engage in some very lively banter. Both are a little arrogant, but their arrogance is mitigated by their willingness to laugh at themselves. Their first scene is one of the best in the book. It happens around page 28. Their next scene together is on page 110.
In the almost one hundred pages that fall in between, we’re treated to scenes that are somewhat confusing just because of the number of people who inhabit them. The people of Painswick are eager for Templeton to stay. His grandfather was the last of his family to spend any time at Templeton Park and his reasons for leaving prompt the villagers to attempt to matchmake for Charles. If Charles were to marry locally, they figure he would be more likely to stay in the area. The explanation for why Charles’s Grandfather left and why the villagers feel responsible takes up a good part of the intervening pages. While I realize these characters are supposed to infuse the book with warm humor, instead they slow the pace and puzzle the reader.
Though I enjoyed Charles and Lavinia, they barely decided they liked each other before he at least decided he was in love. The reader doesn’t even know that Lavinia loves Charles until last two pages of the book, and even then she doesn’t actually tell him. When he first tells her he loves her and wants to marry, she responds:
“I would not have asked you to come to London with me if I had not believed you the most upright of men, despite all signs to the contrary, Templeton. And I never wanted to marry a paragon, anyway. I shall be honored to marry you.”
How’s that for a lukewarm response? The amazing thing is that it fits with the rest of the book. Lavinia goes about falling in love at the same speed as the author goes about writing the story, with many pauses for explanation. Amidst all the scheming and a subplot involving a thief, Lavinia and Charles’s love story seems to get lost, which is a shame. They would have been an intriguing couple if the book had been about them. In reality, I think Ms. Watson has written a gentle piece about the inhabitants of a village that seems more like a regency version of Jan Karon’s Mitford books than a Regency Romance.