All through December I'm talking about some of the best books that I've read this year, and today's offering is...
Spring Flowering by Farah Mendlesohn
Everything changes for Ann Gray when her father dies and her closest friend Jane marries and moves away. Ann must give up the independence and purpose she found as mistress of her father's parsonage in the country, and move to her uncle and aunt's new-style house in the growing city of Birmingham.
The friendship of Ann's cousins - especially the mathematically inclined Louisa - is some compensation for freedoms curtailed. But soon Ann must consider two very different proposals, either of which will bring yet more change. Should she return to her village home as wife of the new parson Mr. Morden? Or become companion to the rather deliciously unsettling widow Mrs. King...?
Farah Mendlesohn holds a special place in my academic heart. As a young and impressionable Masters student, I fell across her work on Diana Wynne Jones. It was the first time that I realised that there is a place for genre fiction studies within academia, so she is technically responsible for me starting my current research.
Therefore, imagine my delight when I realised that she'd written a romance novel of her own.
And what a novel it is.
Mendlesohn's writing style seems like the lovechild of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell. It captures the minutiae of everyday Regency life and the gentle unfurling of narrative that characterises Austen's work, whilst setting the action in the northern town of Birmingham - much like Gaskell's Masterpiece North and South.
What I was particularly struck by, is the beauty of Mendlesohn's prose. The modern romance (as in, the recently published romance) is so often dominated by dialogue that a gentler paced novel, that takes the time to develop and mull over the tiny details of the everyday, isn't always as popular. It's one of the things I loved the most about Spring Flowering.
Also, once again my romance reading seems to impress upon me the importance of female subjectivity. The celebration of the difference of experiences shines through this novel - especially when reading its women. Ann, Louise, Mrs Knight, Jane - and even Clara and Charlotte - each have different responses to both their social statuses and their sexual desires. This is a novel that highlights how female friendship in the Regency era provided opportunity for closeness, and gives our heroine an independent happy ever after with her perfect woman, untinged with sorrow or familial disapproval. Gorgeous.
Farah Mendlesohn acquired a passion for Birmingham History at school. Later she discovered the world of historical romances. She began writing fiction after teaching creative writing at Middlesex University and then at Anglia Ruskin University for several years and wondered if she could put into practice what she taught. She lives in the Midlands with far too many books, her partner, and two siamese cats.
For more information about Farah, please check out her website and follow her on Twitter.