Desert Isle Keeper
My Sweet Folly
My Sweet Folly opens with a series of charming letters from Lt. Robert Cambourne to his cousin’s wife. The correspondence begins almost by accident with Robert writing to his elderly cousin Charles Hamilton about a minor estate matter and being answered by Charles’ lonely twenty year old wife, Folie. Robert and Folie’s initial letters are shy, teasing and tentative. The tension between them builds slowly until finally, Robert reveals his love calling her “my sweet Folly.” The correspondence ends in a haunting climax that I will not reveal here. I was in tears and I was only on page sixteen!
My Sweet Folly picks up five years after the epistolary relationship has ended. Robert Cambourne has returned home from India. Cousin Charles is dead and Robert has been named guardian of Folie’s stepdaughter Melinda. Robert summons Folie and Melinda to his estate and greets them with all the warmth of a Bronte hero. Folie is shocked. Where is the gentle witty man of the letters? Robert’s behavior is both strange and seductive. He demands Folie’s presence and that of his ward, but will not dine with them. He leaves Folie odd begging notes reminiscent of their correspondence, but when he is in her presence he is cold and mysterious. Finally, when Folie announces that she and her stepdaughter plan to leave, Robert prevents their departure, saying that he will cut them off without a penny. The longer Folie is with Robert the more frightened and unwillingly attracted she becomes. Could it be that the gentle witty Robert of the letters is mad?
The answer to this is both yes and no. Beyond that I cannot tell you without ruining the story.
The darkly handsome Robert Cambourne is one of the most enigmatic heroes I’ve read in some time. As the survivor of a nightmarish first marriage, Robert loves Folie too much to let her go, but is terrified of the helplessness that he knows love brings. The contradictions in Robert’s behavior are torturous. He begs Folie not to leave him while making her life unbearable. Again and again he entices and teases her (even after they are married) leaving her and himself unsatisfied. Robert’s intent is to bind his wife to him with sexual frustration. I’ve never read a hero who did this and the result is a book you cannot put down. Robert would fix his gaze on Folie and I’d stop breathing.
Folie is a delightful heroine and I loved every minute with her. Practical modest, and plain, she is everything Robert needs. But Folie knows that loving a man like Robert will probably lead to heartbreak. He terrifies her. It is only more heartbreaking to see that Folie believes that her looks and age (Folie is thirty) make her an unlikely object of love. Folie’s first husband did not love her, and the wrenching conclusion of her correspondence with Robert left her doubting her own judgment of any man’s attraction to her.
What lightens this tale of madness, passion and mystery is the delightfully witty dialogue, as well as Robert and Folie’s internal observations. Folie’s wit is so dry that it often flies over the heads of those to whom she is speaking. There is a scene at Almack’s where Folie is so bored that she amuses herself with her own drollery. You are amused too, not only by Folie’s cleverness but by the incredible inner strength that enables her to be cheerful despite the chimera-like Robert.
This book is not perfect. About eighty pages before the end of the story I felt that the external plot had worn itself out. The internal plot – the unresolved tension between Folie and Robert kept me reading but I do think that My Sweet Folly would have been a stronger book had it been shorter.
Nevertheless I was obsessed with this book from the moment I finished the opening chapter. Please. Go to the bookstore. Sit down in one of those cushy chairs that the big chains have nowadays and read Chapter One. If you don’t find yourself plunking down $6.50 for this book I will be very surprised.