Desert Isle Keeper
An Infamous Marriage
Susanna Fraser’s An Infamous Marriage has a not-unusual marriage of convenience premise, but what I really liked about this book was that at least a third of it is taken up with showing us what life is like for the protagonists after they have made a go of their marriage and admitted their love for one another. In many books, that’s more or less the end of the story, but not here.
The characterisation in the novel is excellent. Jack and Elizabeth come across as real people with real flaws, and their marriage, while eventually very happy, has its ups and downs, and they regularly tease each other about their annoying habits. Jack is a soldier through-and-through, having joined the army at sixteen and spent most of his life away from England in the US and mostly, Canada. The historical detail is well-researched in the sections which describe some of the actions in which he was involved, and I especially like the way that the author shows us exactly what it means – to Jack – to be a military man. There’s a moment in the last section of the book where he is recalled to active service where he says that at last, he feels like a whole man again; which is no reflection on his wife or his marriage, but it tells us so clearly how he defines himself. That is not to say that he is dissatisfied with the life he has with Elizabeth, and to her credit, she understands that; it’s just who he is.
Elizabeth is strong and capable; during her husband’s long absence, she learns to manage his home and farm and is making a place for herself in the rather limited local society around her until a malicious neighbour informs her rather gleefully of Jack’s activities over in Canada, and from that point, Elizabeth becomes reclusive, unwilling to subject herself to the scorn and pity of others.
I have to point out here that Jack is unfaithful to Elizabeth in the early days of their hasty marriage. I know that for some people adultery in a romance is a big no-no, and no matter how good the book is, they won’t want to read it. If that’s the case, then this might not be the book for you. But what happens happens ‘off-screen, and while it’s not something one might wish to condone or excuse, I think the reader has to bear in mind that at the period at which the novel is set (and even today) even the best of husbands were not always faithful. Jack does have reasons for his behaviour – even though they can’t excuse it.
So the first part of the book details how Jack and Elizabeth eventually reconcile and fall in love, and it’s quite beautifully done, especially in the early stages, when Elizabeth is beginning to fall for the man writing her such charming letters. But when he returns, she doesn’t hold back her anger when telling him how much he has hurt her; this is another thing I liked very much in the book – this couple communicates verbally as well as sexually and their marriage is very much an equal partnership.
Naturally, things cannot remain as settled as they are, and as soon as Jack hears news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, he is anxious for a new army posting. Elizabeth doesn’t understand his thirst for action, but she accompanies him to Brussels, where they wait and join the social whirl that is the calm before the storm of Waterloo.
But there is one more crisis to be faced when on the eve of the battle Elizabeth receives some information that could separate her and Jack forever.
An Infamous Marriage earns a strong recommendation. The writing and characterisation are both excellent, and the relationship between Jack and Elizabeth is beautifully drawn. They are warm, fallible and somehow ordinary in a way that characters in novels often are not, so I mean that as a huge compliment!
I loved it, and am definitely looking forward to reading more work by this author.
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