I can probably count on one hand the number of novellas I’ve read from which I’ve come away feeling as satisfied as if I’d read a full length novel. Lady Wild is, sadly, not among them, although it came pretty close. The opening meeting between the two principals is very strong and the ending packs a real emotional punch, but the story seemed to lose its way in the middle, which may be due to the fact that the author has perhaps attempted to pack in too many elements.
Lady Ophelia Darlington is a talented artist who longs to study with the great Pre-Raphaelite artist, John Everett Millais, and to fulfil her dreams of a life lived in vibrant colour. But she and her mother were cast out by their aristocratic family following the sudden death of her father, and they now live in abject poverty. Not only have Ophelia’s dreams of becoming an artist been shattered, her beloved mother is dying, and she is bearing the crushing weight of caring for her and is trying to steel herself against the grief which will follow her loss, having decided that the only way she will be able cope is not to feel anything at all.
Andrew, Viscount Stark, is handsome, dissolute and deeply troubled. He has travelled into the country in order to visit his friend, the Marquess of Vane (who is clearly being set up as the principal character in a future story), and stumbles across Ophelia, who immediately intrigues and attracts him.
Lady Darlington is physically weak, but mentally unimpaired, and from the moment we – and Andrew – meet her, we’re charmed. She was clearly a leader of society in her day, and wants her daughter to live a little rather than remaining cooped up in the country just waiting for her to die. It’s an unusual and rather outrageous request, but she asks Andrew to take Ophelia to London for the season. Andrew is surprised, but understands the reasons for the request, and can’t resist the idea of spending more time with Ophelia, as would be the case were he to be her escort. But he insists on taking Lady Darlington along, too, thinking that she deserves to enjoy the remainder of her days in comfort.
Ms Claremont’s characters often find themselves in dark places mentally – and sometimes physically – and their journeys towards happiness are difficult and fraught with emotion. Here, we have Ophelia, who doesn’t WANT to feel and Andrew who doesn’ t know how to feel – but in order to fully explore those issues and develop a rounded and satisfactory relationship between them, they needed a longer page count than afforded by the novella format. I struggled with the idea that Andrew would so easily take two complete strangers into his home, and I felt the romance was somewhat under-developed. Andrew is a fairly nebulous character; we’re told he’s a bit of a rake, but a somewhat stereotypically affectionless childhood doesn’t really go far enough to fully explain his inability to feel emotion. His transformation from gin-imbibing-empty-shell happened rather quickly, too, although I did enjoy the level of understanding that developed between him and Lady Darlington.
Those reservations aside, I enjoyed reading Lady Wild and am certainly intrigued enough by the character of the Marquess of Vane to want to pick up the next book in the series. The author is donating profits from this novella to the hospice movement, which helped to care for both her parents. She says:
My mother died just a little under two years ago. She fought the battle with cancer and ultimately lost. Her last months were spent on Hospice. My father, too, died of cancer and spent his last 3 months on Hospice. It’s such an incredible organization and I don’t know how my mom or dad and I would have made it without the support of the staff.
Ms Claremont’s writing is lyrical, and she perfectly captures all the different and difficult emotions associated with the prospect of such a terrible loss. The final chapters which deal with Lady Darlington’s passing are beautifully done and highly emotional, reminding the characters and the reader of the importance of living life to the fullest, even when our loved ones are no longer with us.