Friday, December 24, 2010

Bookworm Present Proposition - Lauren Willig's The Mischief of the Mistletoe

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas by Lauren Willig
Published by: Dutton
ARC Provided by Dutton
Publication Date: October 28th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Challenge: Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★★
Recommended for: Anglophiles, Janeites, Knee Breech Buffs, Pudding Praisers, Regency Reverers, Pimpernel Paramours and Turnip Treasurers
To Buy
Arabella Dempsey has been thrown back onto the bosom of her family. Her Aunt has made a bit of a to-do, marrying a man closer in age to her niece, who might have been a little too close to her niece's heart. Arabella's years being raised as her Aunt's companion and nominal heiress have been brushed aside with one wedding vow. She must now return to her family, whom she barely knows, and be a burden on their already strained income. But Arabella is determined to make her way in the world and not go back to be her Aunt's lapdog while the man she loves can never be hers. She is for teaching. Which, according to her old family friend Jane, should really be reconsidered. Has she ever even seen the inside of an all girls school? But she is hired by Miss Climpson, of Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies, and promptly bowled over by one Mr. Reginald Fitzhugh, Turnip to his friends. Turnip has been at the school visiting his sister Sally and her new very "peculiar" particular friends, Lizzy Reid and Agnes Wooliston, who replace the now shunned Catherine Carruthers, she did take Sally's most favorite ribbons after all. Turnip quickly realizes that being in a small room with three very rambunctious teenagers is the last place he wants to be, let alone in a building full of them. Taking the proffered Christmas Pudding, he walks out the door and straight into Miss Dempsey. Despite having met her many a time on the dance floors of the ton, Turnip has no memory of this slightly bruised girl. But then again, Arabella and him never quite occupied the same side of the dance floor, she being more their to wait on her aunt and balance out the numbers. Turnip, always the cheerful gentleman, profusely apologizes and takes his leave of her and his Christmas Pudding. Arabella rushes after Mr. Fitzhugh with his forgotten Pudding only to be attacked by a man outside the school desperate for the pudding. After Mr. Fitzhugh once again picks Miss Demspey out of the gutter, she does have a talent for falling at his feet, they find the deuced oddest thing. A secret message in the pudding! Well, written on the pudding's muslin wrapper to be precise. The message says to meet at Farley Castle, where there is to be a Frost Fair the next day. In a time of spies and the terrors in France, secret messages in puddings are not to be taken lightly, even in all girls schools. Especially if those messages are written in French!

Couldn't the spies have picked anywhere other than the Frost Fair? The place where Arabella is most likely to run into her Aunt and her new Uncle? But she has to admit, showing up with Mr. Fitzhugh, root vegetable though he may be, he's a root vegetable with 30,000. So with Jane in tow they all head to the castle despite bovine interruptions. Once there they discover yet another pudding! Turnip is all for further investigations, but Arabella puts her foot down. Tomorrow she is for the real world of teaching and papers to grade and ink and not very fashionable grey dresses with pockets. This "spy" business might have been fun but it is over. Good luck telling that to the mischievous pudding thief. Beset by students and mysterious mustachioed men in the night, things look to be getting more and more out of hand, as are Arabella's feelings towards Mr. Fitzhugh. But when she finally puts her foot down, when she finally says enough is enough and they must never see each other again, little does she know they are to spend all of the twelve days of Christmas together at a house party in Norfolk. Twelve days of pudding and long glances, and physical assaults. Because the culprits haven't contained themselves to the hallowed halls of a girls school in Bath, they are now lurking the grand passages of Girdings House. But hopefully with an earnest and loving root vegetable all will turn out just as it should, with a kiss under the mistletoe.

Rarely has a book made me smile from ear to ear and laugh aloud as I have reading The Mischief of the Mistletoe, twice now I must add. Loosely based on the skeleton of the story The Watsons, by Jane Austen, Lauren has taken Austen and amped it up to farce level in the best possible of ways. She has taken Austen, and dare I say, improved it for a modern audience. Austen, while humorous, has a staid and classical voice to her narration, while Willig lets her characters loose, losing hair pins and perhaps their reputations in the process in a hilarious page turner that isn't above adding in a few modern references with Blackadder references. The hero of the hour, while, according to Willig, is based on Bertie Wooster, is perhaps the most lovable root vegetable hero in history, even if this means you start confusing Hugh Laurie in Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent, I can't but help love Turnip more than Bertie and Hugh Laurie has to beat off my Nicholas Rowe with a stick for the part. He may not be smart, he doesn't over think things, but he has the biggest heart to match his big smile, that you will find yourself sporting as your race towards his happy ending.

While fans of Willig will love that Turnip is finally getting the girl, despite his overly florid taste in waistcoats, I have to say, that I think this novel could easily stand alone. While we do have repeating characters, and overlapping plots, there is enough of a distance and enough new characters, that this is literally the perfect Christmas gift for the literary minded who like a little bit of Regency. One reason being that this book is a very clever idea on Lauren and Dutton's part to do a more giftable book, hence the smaller size, which I kind of opine... and here I'm not talking length, but actual book dimensions, I want my books to have the same height dammit! But also the modern interludes of Colin and Eloise, the scholar and the descendant of the spy, The Purple Gentian, have been excised. I agree with Lauren in many regards to their not being present. She could not have done justice to them in a smaller book. The book wouldn't have been as easily read by those unfamiliar with the previous six installments. But more importantly, it made me have an epiphany, a new realization when I read this book and then proceeded to re-read all her previous books. Colin and Eloise are great, and I love their story, but they have become extraneous. I, who have been the most vocal on their staying, can now see that perhaps, their story has run its course... of course I thought this before reading the next installment, The Orchid Affair, which throws a serious wrench into things, and now I'm desperate for their story line again. In the final analysis, I can't get enough of the world Lauren has created. I want to have young adult novels of the three little sisters. I want to know if Turnip and Arabella ever decided to try some Strawberry jam to replace the standard Raspberry. And I need to know why Sally is scared of chickens. And her ribbons! Are they tying a certain Christmas Pudding? Austen created a memorable world, but each of her six novels are in a rarefied and finite world, whereas, the world is messy. Love has complications and pudding and torn sleeves and missed moments and kisses that could have been. All of this needs mess with the tears and the joy, and Austen might not be messy enough to reflect how life is. Not that we still don't get the fairy tale ending, as Austen was wont to do, but the ride is a little more boisterous.


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