The Murmur of Masks
The theme of Catherine Kullmann’s debut Regency novel is ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure’. Olivia Frobisher’s comfortable life is thrown into sudden disarray, and in response she opts for the safety of an arranged marriage. She soon learns that her sacrifice is more than she had guessed. But how can she have a second chance at love while retaining her morality and her self-respect?
This tale is told from Olivia’s viewpoint, but also several others, including that of her husband, Jack, and her lover, Luke. There is no suspense, therefore, in the story of the marriage: the reader knows it is doomed long before the protagonist does. Nor is there any mystery in the romance: we know early on that true love has blossomed. Structurally I think this is a mistake, as it slows the pace and distances us from Olivia. However, it also allows for some very touching scenes that a more formulaic romance would struggle to achieve. The letters between the couple were a high point for me, as were the set-piece descriptions at Waterloo and its aftermath. I also liked that where Jack, initially, is the principal barrier to the plot’s denouement, in the end it is his and Olivia’s children who prove a much truer and more nuanced problem.