My Unfair Lady
Sometimes, as a reader, I must admit defeat: An author just isn’t for me. I don’t consider her characters appealing or her jokes funny, and what I ought to do, is just stop reading her books. Unfortunately, when I am reviewing a book, I can’t just DNF and leave it at that, however much I would like to. But while I heartily disliked this book and found it uphill work to finish, others might like it better. To be fair, I’ll try describe both its redeeming (if not for me) and its awful qualities as clearly as possible.
Summer Wine Lee is an heiress from the United States, and she has come to Victorian London not to snag a husband, but to get recognition from English upper-crust society, thus to gain the approval of the snobbish New York relations of her fiancé, Monte. In spite of all her money, Summer’s attempts to gain entrée to the upper echelons have failed so far, and so she decides to hire a tutor who can teach her how to act among the aristocracy and garner some invitations for her, too. Her choice has fallen on Byron, the Duke of Monchester, who is as high in the instep and feared for his biting tongue as he is impoverished.
Byron is not amused at all at first when he hears about Summer’s business proposition, but then he becomes intrigued by her spunk and her unconventional personality. He takes her to Worth in Paris to get a new wardrobe, then he accompanies her to society functions and a house party. While Summer and Byron get to understand and like each other better, there is a series of mysterious accidents …
Well, all of this sounds harmless enough, if not precisely original, and that’s the reason why I asked for this book to review. As I said before, there are some elements that I would have liked had I not been so deeply irritated throughout.
– The hero is blond and short.
– The heroine is very straightforward for most of the book (see below).
– I liked the scene in which Summer deals with Byron’s mistress. The mistress comes across as utterly spineless, but the scene was an amusing spin on a standard situation.
While all this is theoretically likeable, it was of no use to me here. This is why:
– The heroine’s name. Every other character in the novel remarks about how Summer’s parents could have done that to their daughter, and I kept rolling my eyes and wondering that if that was the author’s opinion, why did she use it? There are names that are so twee that your mouth curls from all the sugar every time you read them, and Summer Wine Lee is a prime example for this phenonemon.
– The hero just happens to be a master at kung fu (he learned from a Chinese gardener) and the heroine just happens to be deadly with a knife (she learned from an Apache).
– The heroine is always right. She has marvellous instincts, and whenever she does something unexpected, or breaks society’s rule, she proved right by subsequent events.
– As a result, she doesn’t change. This novel is supposed to be something of a Pygmalion story, and doesn’t deliver, at least not until very far into the book (see below). The big change in the heroine is her new wardrobe. It reminded me strongly of Not Another Teen Movie when just Janey’s glasses are removed to make her a new woman, but I doubt the effect was meant to be humorous here.
– The heroine rescues animals and carries them around in her pocket. No kidding. For the greater part of the novels, she keeps a chihuahua and a fox cub in the same (single) pocket her dress. And she permits her pet monkey to groom other people’s heads after those people have asked her to call the monkey back. (“Oh, it’s a sign he likes you. You’ll love it in a minute.”)
– The animals are called “critters” throughout and the heroine keeps exclaiming “Tarnation!”. There are only so many times you want to read these words within one novel, trust me.
– The heroine’s contradictory morals. She feels she has given her vow to Monte and is therefore honor-bound to marry him, even after she has slept with Byron repeatedly. At the same time, she scoffs at Byron because he feels honor-bound to marry her after they had sex.
– At around page 250, obviously because the publisher demanded another 100 pages of text, Summer develops Issues and both she and Byron prove they took Psychology 101 at college by analyzing themselves, each other and their relationship in a way that would make Sigmund Freud proud.
Grading My Unfair Lady was not quite as difficult as finishing it. The book suffered from major cute overload, from general obviousness, from uneven characterization, and from shallow psychology. I heartily recommend you don’t force your way through it. There are far better novels out there about American heiresses, cute animals and impoverished dukes. About any will do.