A Visit from Sir Nicholas
I am astonished by how much I didn’t like this book. Victoria Alexander is an author I can usually count on to be witty and cozy; I have never before associated the word “maddening” with her. A Visit from Sir Nicholas, though, features turgid prose and a self-satisfied, smirking hero who is putting up a good fight for my “most annoying character of the year” vote in our annual reader poll.
Everyone always assumed that nineteen-year-old Lady Elizabeth Effington would marry her beloved childhood friend, Charles. Lizzie falls passionately in love with Charles’ friend Nicholas, who loves her in return. But Nicholas will not steal his friend’s woman, even though there’s no formal engagement. So he drives Lizzie away by pretending that he doesn’t care about her. Refusing to acknowledge her broken heart, Lizzie marries Charles, and Nicholas goes away and makes huge amounts of money.
Ten years later, Lizzie is the mother of two sons and has been a widow for three years. She has ably handled the estate’s finances since Charles died, and she’s justifiably proud of her accomplishments. Then she learns that Charles did not trust her intelligence much, because in his will he dictated that all her financial affairs are to be overseen by his dear friend, Nicholas. Lizzie is hurt and furious.
When Nicholas and Lizzie meet again, she’s enraged, both by her husband’s will and by the unpleasant way Nicholas treated her all those years ago. Nicholas immediately realizes that he loves her and was wrong to let her go; he’s determined to make her his wife. But Lizzie doesn’t intend to give up an iota of her independence. So how does Nicolas proceed? Does he attempt to befriend her, woo her, win her trust? Why, no. He tells her that from now on, he plans to fulfill his duty by taking complete control of her money.
Okay, where shall I start? The will stipulation that provides the conflict is never really explained, and I have no clue why Lizzie doesn’t learn about it for three years after her husband dies. Also, the author tells us so much, but shows so little. We are told, in the early chapters, that the young Lizzie and Nicholas spend many hours together in intimate conversation, achieving a true meeting of minds and souls. But we never see a single one of those conversations; in fact, whenever I saw them, they were at odds. You can tell me that two people are perfect together a thousand times, but showing me that early connection would have helped me relate to this couple.
None of that is what really bothers me, though. In the interests of full disclosure, I must tell you that, like many people with no aptitude for money matters, I’ve worked hard and long to gain a measure of financial competence. While I’ll probably never be a whiz with dollars and cents, I’m proud of my hard-won ability. The idea that a man could come along and take a woman’s financial independence away, because he wants something from her – well, that’s enough to make me angry. Really angry. At several moments in this novel I felt smoke issuing out of my nostrils.
Please understand that this is a lighthearted book, and that the seizure of Lizzie’s accounts is Nicholas’ bargaining chip in an ongoing contest of wills between the two. That fact is what kept me from giving this book an F. But even if it’s played for laughs, I just don’t understand why anyone would imagine such a situation to be romantic. I didn’t much respect Nicholas for his actions in driving the young Lizzie away from him. But when he started using his control over her money to try to manipulate and control her, I despised him.
And that’s why Lizzie’s reaction is so very bizarre. She’s angry, but she also realizes that Nicholas is sexy and that she wants him. She offers to become his lover if he’ll let her continue to hold the financial reins. Nicholas allows her to think he agrees; they become lovers, but he continues to deny her financial control. And trust me, it goes downhill from there. He maintains an attitude of arrogant, smirking confidence that made me want to break a baseball bat over his head. It didn’t help that Lizzie found him irresistible and adored the battle of wits between them – that just made me unable to comprehend her.
Aggravating me further is the author’s prose style, which is thick with adverbs. Few words are not modified with a terribly or an actually, a rather or a quite, an exceedingly or an ever so. The characters talk that way, too, adding numerous indeeds as well. I used to think that Alexander wrote sparkling dialogue, but this seems cast in cement, weighed down by the constant use of modifiers. Perhaps it’s is the author’s way of trying to sound English, but it made me tired.
I have no doubt that there are readers who will find this a jolly romp, and who will enjoy the sparring between Lizzie and Nicholas. I’m afraid that the battleground they chose – her money – is one that’s designed bother me, and I was too busy simmering in indignation to enjoy the romance.