Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review - Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: July 29th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Charlotte Baird is a bit of an odd duck, even for an heiress. She would rather spend her time taking photographs and manipulating them then hunting for a suitable husband. That all changes when she meets Bay Middleton. This suave horseman sweeps her off her feet and steals her heart. But her brother and prospective sister-in-law are adamant to show her that Bay is an entirely unsuitable match. Charlotte could marry a Duke and to settle for the best seat in the county? It seems such a waste. Though Fred and Augusta's disapproval might not be so altruistic as to save Charlotte from a fortune hunter as it is to keep the wealth at their own disposal. For Bay's part he genuinely loves Charlotte but he is torn. He has been asked to pilot Sisi, the Empress of Austria, for the hunting season, and there's a connection between him and this royal that can not be denied. Yet, in order to win Charlotte, he must indeed deny Sisi.

I was never the girl who wanted a pony. Girls of a certain age split distinctly along the equine obsession line. Me, I wasn't a horse girl. Oh, I had plenty of friends in grade school who were obsessed and spent every day at school talking about the weekend when they'd get to ride their ponies. Not me. I can literally count the number of times I have been on a horse on one hand. One delicate fragile hand that I was convinced a horse would love to bite the fingers off of. See, while I wasn't a horse girl, my grandparents did live in the country so I got to visit their neighbor's horse Dr. Pepper all the time and feed him grass and tremble with fear as his teeth chomped down on the stalks in that death clamp. I know he would never have hurt me, but that experience combined with my inane classmates practically guaranteed that I would never want a pony; a state I'm sure my mom was happy with having grown up in the country with seriously horse obsessed girls.

The reason for me mentioning this predilection of mine is that The Fortune Hunter, while ostensibly about romance and intrigue, comes down to horses in the end. Bay and his horse Tipsy, the Grand National, the hunting, Sisi and her riding ability, all of this adds up to a fair amount of horse for one book. Yet, despite not being a horse person, I did not lose interest. Daisy makes the subject of horses approachable and not alienating. They weren't just there to be another facet of our characters, they were a driving force of these characters.

Unlike my insipid classmates going on about their pretty ponies, Daisy has crafted this story so that when Tipsy is mentioned you don't tune out. She doesn't dwell on irrelevant details and what a pretty mane Tipsy has, instead Tipsy is elevated to a character just as important as Queen Victoria or Charlotte herself. I became invested in the horsier aspects of the story because the horses were integral to the story in a way that made sense. Daisy's writing made you feel that she knows what she's talking about but writes in such a way as to keep you interested, and for a subject I'm not invested in usually, I was drawn into this book.

The reason I liked Daisy's previous book, The American Heiress, is that not everything was wrapped up tidily with a bow in the end. Life isn't simple or easy, but complicated and messy, and sometimes I crave that reality in a book. Sometimes books can be a little too far fetched and focusing on the HEA, but how often does that happen to us? Yet in the case of The Fortune Hunter I found this looser ending not as satisfying. The main reason for this is the timeline brought about by the historical note at the end of the book. In The Fortune Hunter, Bay and Sisi's relationship is shown to flame and burn out over the course of one hunting season.

While I knowing conflating events is common to help the narrative, the fact that their relationship, whatever it actually was in real life, actually lasted for five years makes the season of passion ring false. Yes, Charlotte and Bay didn't marry until he had severed ties from Sisi, but this was a long five years later. I'm sorry, I just can't get beyond this five years. Five years means a lot more then what we saw and changes so much that the interpretation of events that Daisy has written would be drastically altered by the true timeline. While I enjoyed the story I would have liked it to maybe reflect reality a little closer, or at least left me ignorant of the truth unless I had searched it out... which, in fairness to my own predilections, I would have and we'd be having this same discussion. So, I guess we're stuck in a loop.

The photography interest Daisy "gave" to Charlotte is an aspect of the story I greatly enjoyed. Not only was this able to advance the plot and also show Charlotte the "truth" that she was blinding herself from, but it's logical historically, unlike those five years, grumble. During the Victorian era there were so few hobbies that were viewed as permissible to ladies of quality. Photography was one of these, though a little on the outer edges, mainly because of the damage it could do to your skin with the developing of the prints. But what I found most interesting wasn't so much Charlotte's photography, but her manipulation of the images, viewing people as animals.

While to some this might seem macabre, the truth is the most common and acceptable hobby for Victorian women was photocollage. I few years back I went to an exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago called "Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage." This show was of Victorian women's photo albums wherein they painted ducks and had photographs of their family member's heads on the bodies. Butterflies with cameos on the wings. The weirder the more likely they'd do it. Work that is so reminiscent of what Charlotte did that it struck a cord so true that Charlotte and I understood each other, which is the greatest thing a character in a book can do; connect with you.


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