Technically, Meredith Allady doesn’t qualify as a Favourite Thing; being, as she is, a person. So this blog post is more in the way of a review of her latest book, A SUMMER IN BATH, and a general fan flail about what an awesome writer she is.
For a start, Meredith Allady has the distinction of being one of only TWO authors I know of who, when compared to Jane Austen, actually bear out that comparison. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve read that this or that author is JUST LIKE reading Jane Austen. RUBBISH. They’re not. They’re like a very bad version of Georgette Heyer. (If they were a GOOD version of Georgette Heyer, I’d have no complaints, but even so, weigh your comparisons, people!) Meredith Allady, on the other hand, is about the closest thing I’ve read to Jane Austen, while at the same time having her own style and voice. She writes the period as if IN the period, which is as big of a compliment as I can pay a historical writer. It’s not just the knowledge of the period, it’s the style of writing: the gorgeously Georgian comma usage and sentence structure, the conversational humour, the attitudes and considerations. And as a Christian, I SO MUCH LOVE that her characters talk and live God, Christ, and scripture. However, be not alarmed, non-Christian readers; the usage is natural and just, and you’re unlikely to feel preached at unless you’re of the most delicately minded atheists who can’t stand to see the names of God or Christ in print (in which case, your life is already hard enough: skip this book).
Having flailed a little, let me proceed to the book in question, A SUMMER IN BATH.
First and foremost I should mention that I think this is the best of Meredith Allady’s books so far, despite the fact that, as warned, it was almost entirely sans Ann (my favourite character from the Merriweather Chronicles). It zipped along at a pace that was, contradictorily, both satisfyingly speedy and Regency-fashion sedate: I never found it too slow (in fact, it was very difficult to stop reading for run-of-the-mill things like eating and sleeping) but neither did I find that it was missing the particularly sedate perambulatory style that I love so much about both Allady’s and Austen’s work.
We meet Sibyl, Sibyl’s sister Jane, the Earl, a mysterious young man (or not so mysterious, if you’ve already read the previous two books), and several other characters, some of them known only as recipients of Sibyl’s and the Earl’s letters (until the end of the book, anyway). This book is written in the epistolatory style, but there is absolutely no lack of dimension to the characters, which is a huge testament to the writing of Meredith Allady. Each of them is fully-fleshed, fully human, and capable of making mistakes. We’re mostly in Sibyl’s head, but we get a wide range of sight and character, and occasionally, we get a letter in the Earl’s P.O.V. (delightful excerpts, but more of that later…)
First of all, I LOVE BEING IN SIBYL’S HEAD. She’s at the same time so young and naive, yet so mature. So learned and clever, yet so inclined to run aground when it comes to knowledge of people. SO. FLAMIN’. ADORABLE. So inclined to reflect on her own behaviour and correct wrong things. Even if other people in the situation do the wrong thing, if Sibyl does the wrong thing too, she acknowledges it and makes it right. I love right-hearted characters. And Sibyl never comes across as stuffy for doing so—just thoughtful. She’s a beautifully well-drawn character. It’s a constant delight seeing the world through her eyes, and even if I don’t agree with her assessment of novels(! :D), I love that she’s a complete, unapologetic, distinct character. I found myself very much at home in her head.
Unusually enough for me nowadays, I utterly fell in love with the hero of the piece, the Earl. Some of this falling in love has to do with his AMAZING way with words and the fact that for the first time in years, I had to seriously think about the provenance of a word to decipher its meaning, not having come across it before. Not just once, but about three times. Having done so, I could work out from root words and context what the word meant, but it was something I’ve not had to do for years. Not to mention the usage of older, WONDERFUL words that I almost never see in fiction any more.
More than than, it’s his affectionate view of Sibyl that made me love him. And, in the cleverest way imaginable, this view of the Earl is given not just in letter fragments from his P.O.V., but in the letters from Sibyl. Through her largely ignorant eyes, we see exactly how the Earl views Sibyl, and if Sibyl has no idea of his feelings for her, the reader is left in no doubt. It’s beautifully, BEAUTIFULLY drawn.
There are side-stories, side-threads, and things left to be told in later books. They’re things that you can guess if you’re a little more inclined to noticing things than Sibyl is, but if not, on a re-reading you’ll see that they’re gently led from early on.
All in all: BUY THIS BOOK. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Read it again and again, and enjoy the excerpts from writings of the day that Meredith Allady has cleverly pieced in between the letters. They’re there for a reason, and most of them are humorous (though if you’re like me, you’ll have an aw moment or two, as well).
(SIDE NOTE: I can’t say how much I LOVED seeing Clive. He’s a character I simultaneously love and hate. Well, not hate; but I would love to smack him upside the head every so often. Please don’t think I don’t love him. I do. But I think he would greatly benefit from the occasional smack upside the head throughout the course of his life.)
I got my hot little hands on a paperback copy of A SUMMER IN BATH (and at the same time purchased paperbacks of the first two in the Merriweather Chronicles) because if I love a book I always want the paperback of it and I was certain in advance that I’d love the book. So just a small note to add that I ADORE the bigger print in the paperback version, because I’m getting old and my eyes are starting to prefer larger print…
Five utterly-well-earned stars for A SUMMER IN BATH.