The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever
The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever starts off as vintage Julia Quinn, and that is high praise indeed! I was captivated after just reading a few pages, set aside some work that really had to be done and devoured the book in one sitting.
A short prologue relates the first meeting of hero and heroine: Miranda, aged ten, attends her best friend Olivia’s birthday party and is taken home by Olivia’s nineteen-year-old brother Nigel, Viscount Turner. Another little girl at the party made cattish remarks about Miranda’s lack of beauty, and she is still bothered by that. Nigel, whom Miranda has never met before (yes, that does seem a bit contrived, although an explanation is given), tries to cheer her up and tells her that she needs to grow into her style of beauty. She falls in love with him on the spot and begins to write a diary the same day, as he recommended, to record her progress.
Ten years later Turner and Miranda both attend the funeral of Turner’s wife. His marriage was deeply unhappy, due to the late Viscountess’s unfaithfulness and generally disagreeable character, and Turner is convinced that everything good in him has been soiled and that he will be unable to love again. By accident, he and Miranda come across each other in the library at night, and begin to talk about an inappropriate remark Turner made during the funeral. Finally, out of his self-disgust and despair, he kisses her. He apologizes the next day and this leads to another conversation about his marriage and about her plans for the future. This sets the tone for the greatest part of the book. Although the two weren’t close before, now that they have really begun to talk to each other, they are very open and honest in their communication. The author does an excellent job here in portraying that rare instance in everybody’s life of meeting someone with whom you can talk about anything, right from the start. Turner and Miranda’s dialogues are charming and funny, and I enjoyed every single one of them.
Miranda is well aware that her youthful passion for Turner was no more than calf-love, but when she goes to London under the aegis of Olivia and Turner’s mother, they are thrown together again and again and there is just no other man she likes half as much. Finally she admits to herself that she loves him as a grown-up woman now, and wonders if there might be a chance he could return her feelings. I completely rooted for Miranda here. Her emotional state, hovering between hope and despair – knowing that she is no beauty, but aware that the way they relate to each other may well mean she stands a chance – all this I remember very well from my teenage years up to falling in love with my husband. This is how very many women experience love, and it is rare to see it portrayed in romance beyond the Young Adult level. Quinn does it with great sensitivity and gentle humor.
Turner is equally true to life. He starts out a bit melodramatic, with his disastrous marriage in the background, but as soon as he warms up to Miranda, he becomes delightfully obtuse, never even considering he might have any feelings for her and in general attempting to take the easy way out emotionally. He is just spot on. I constantly smiled to myself as I read about his equivocations. Yet he is not an unsympathetic character: He is good-natured and an excellent friend, in typical male fashion he just hates being tied down and avoids thinking about emotions.
A dramatic incident changes the nature of Turner and Miranda’s relationship, and again they act in a believable and true-to-life fashion. The lightness of tone that dominated earlier gives way to a darker mood here, and rightfully so, as both risk their happiness by acting without sufficient consideration, permitting peeves and worries to guide their actions. Neither shows to great advantage in this part of the book, and yet how they behave is so typical for the way many of us do, that while wishing to shake some reason into them, I kept my fingers crossed for them all the time.
Having read so far, you may well wonder why this novel didn’t earn a better grade. The first two-thirds were DIK-worthy. What happened after that is not easy to explain without straying into spoiler territory, but I will attempt to do so anyway.
Around page 260 there is a huge step forward in the direction of an HEA, which, while not solving all their problems, gives Miranda and Turner ample opportunity to develop their relationship further and strengthen their bond. So one would think. What happens instead is that Miranda starts obsessing about one detail in their relationship to the extent that she endangers all they have achieved so far. Not to do her an injustice, there are some excuses for her behavior, but still her attitude struck me as remarkably immature and downright silly. Now this may just be me – other readers may well think she is in the right. But it quite spoiled the ending of the book for me. With two such delightfully down-to-earth characters as were presented for the greatest part of the novel, I prefer a subtle solution of their issues with each other, and not one fraught with melodrama, as the author delivers here.
The attraction between Miranda and Turner is very strong, but is depicted more as a battle of the wits than the bodily reactions it arouses. Not that they’re not there – the love scenes themselves are funny and sweet – they are just not given that much emphasis.
The book is full of Julia Quinn’s trademark dry humor. This is especially true of Miranda’s diary entries, which I enjoyed a lot. Unfortunately, they are only used sparsely, which is unexpected as they are figure so prominently in the book’s title. They might have been employed to greater effect, I think, and while others may disagree – including my editor – the use the diary is put to in its final appearance read too sweet to me.
With the notable exception of Turner’s sister Olivia, the minor characters remain shadowy, but as Miranda and Turner are so very vividly drawn, I did not mind. Olivia is an intriguing character, and though this appears to be a stand-alone book, I’d definitely read her story. But in these days of sequelitis, a stand-alone title in historical romance has become an endangered species and must be cherished.
So I do recommend The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, but with some reservations. The book begins brilliantly and becomes rather more average in its last third, with a touch of the sentimental that is lacking before. Still, it is definitely worth reading, and if you do so, you’re in for fun (watch out for the scone!) and two lovely main characters.