C. E. Murphy's Magic and Manners is a Regency fantasy heavily inspired by Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which for me is more than reason enough to take a chance on it.
Murphy has retained all of the key characters of Austen's masterpiece, and has given them, in large part, very similar characters - although several characters are portrayed with greater generosity by Murphy than they are in the source text. The broad strokes of the tale are familiar - a rural family - the Dovers - landed but low on the social ladder, a father who regrets his choice of a wife, a mother with little intelligence or sense and an all-encompassing desire to see her daughters married, and five daughters who must marry on their own merits because there is little dowry, and no male heir to an entailed estate. Into their world comes wealthy young Mr Webber, his two sisters, his brother-in-law Mr Gibbs, and his best friend, the dour, proud and extremely wealthy Fitzgerald Archer.
What changes and complicates the progression of the novel is that this is a world in which some people are born with the gift of working magic - a most socially unacceptable gift, more than enough to destroy the reputation of any gentleman or lady, though welcome enough in some places, such as the military. As it turns out, it is the taint of magic that has caused Mr. Dover to retreat from Society and dwell quietly in the country, and which constrained his choice of brides. And his daughters have inherited his abilities, notably the second daughter and Mr. Dover's favourite, Elsabeth, and the youngest and favourite of Mrs. Dover, Leopoldina (Dina for short).
Much of the fun in reading lies in how well Murphy has captured the tone of Austen's original work (though there are some rather jarring missteps in that regard) and in watching the ways in which the plot of Magic and Manners diverges from the source material - most of which, particularly in the earlier parts of the book, involve the use of magic by either Leopoldina, or the dashing army captain who catches the eye of both Dina and Elsabeth, and has earned the distain of Mr. Archer and his friends. Indeed, the secondary focus of the narrative - after that of ensuring both marriages and personal satisfaction for most of the main characters - is the ways in which magic has been stigmatised, and how the suppression of magic among the upper classes has led to unhappiness and tragedy, to say nothing of the loss of opportunities to improve life for all.
The changes made to the story include several that - I hesitate to admit this - are somewhat more in keeping with how I would have liked to see certain characters treated than is the source text. The character modelled on Mary Bennett, in particular, is much better served here, and her ultimate fate also serves as an example of how magic, well-used, can benefit an entire community. As well, the character based on Anne de Bourgh is a far more sympathetic one, and fares much better. And the happy ending given to the character based on Charlotte Lucas delighted me to no end.
Murphy has done some very interesting and satisfying things with the bones of Austen's work, and her incorporation of magic leads to some highly enjoyable developments. I'm glad I took a chance on this book.
What I read
Finished The People in the Trees - my proviso re noxiousness of main character remains, but I thought there were interesting things going on there, e.g. despoliation of nature/innocence, and that he gets a Nobel prize for work that has resulted in destruction of a way of life and island ecology, but then gets fingered for paedophilia. (And I thought the author should have resisted that coda and left things a bit more grey and indeterminate.)
I thought it was very good, but I would be hesitant to recommend it to people unless I was very sure of their tastes. But given recent hoohah around writing the other, this is someone who is not a Dead White Male writing as the epitome of a certain type of DWM and doing it very well. (And the case I couldn't remember on which it was based was that of Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who did work on kuru in New Guinea.)
Read surprising little given the extended railway drama - but did read the very lovely Miss Eleanor Tilney: or, The Reluctant Heroine by Sherwood Smith. Would recommend.
And then got drawn into re-reading Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (2016). It's years since I last read it, and do we think that the narrator is so far in the closet he's looking at a lamppost in Narnia, and in fact doesn't even cop to himself? Doesn't he quite drool over Ashburnham?
On the go
Simon R Green, Dr DOA (2016). Seem to have rather abandoned Trade Secret.
I knew I had a few life-admin/domestic things this week: dental hygienist appointment, parcel to pick up from the depot because they put a card through the door last week, go and look for new sitting room chairs -
And I thought, why not, now that booking is opened and I am doing all this life-admin business, schedule my flu-jab -
And I thought, post office depot is not 100 miles from network provider's most local store, I could go there and buy myself a new phone since I am doing no good at all at their website.
So: I have lovely shiny toofypegs.
I have picked up my parcel.
I have a shiiiiny new smartphone that turned out to be cheaper if bought in-store, and has ported over my number without trouble, though I am still getting to grips with it more generally.
I got in and thought, that's funny, it's that sound as if the tank is refilling -
And then I looked out of the kitchen window and saw a stream of water spouting out from under the gutter from the cold-water tank in the not very accessible loft.
So I rang partner, and then contacted British Gas Homecare (with which our policy also covers plumbing) and booked someone to come tomorrow as it didn't seem urgent-urgent though something that needed attending to fairly soon -
And then went to meet partner so we could go and look at furniture (we think we have spotted some chairs that Will Fit The Bill, though a bit dearer than we had anticipated) -
And when we got in, partner went up into the loft to see if he could at least do something temporary, and it is no longer gushing out but it is coming in at great speed -
So partner is currently sitting up there like the little Dutch boy and we are waiting for an emergency plumber within the next few hours.
The situation is complicated in that the stopcock for the house appears to be in the downstairs flat, the occupants of which are currently out. There is a mains stopcock outside in the pavement, but that is for us and next door, and also, I think one needs some special thing to turn it off?
And in connection with domestic concerns, saw this article about the rise of the inept motherhood trope, which of course, my dearios, is by no means a new motif, come on down, Provincial Lady and a vast number of jolly columns in women's magazines, and Jill Tweedie's Fainthearted Feminist, and probably several more that I have forgotten.
I doubt you're reading this, Jim, but if you are: I still love you, but I don't trust you any longer, and I may not be able to ever again.
So here is "The Small Talk of Lodogratz".
"It was one of Maryam Hedicule's dinner parties, of course," Clovis said. "The other day, in Cambridge, someone asked me, 'Is the class of those classes which are members of themselves a member of itself?' I suppose it qualifies as light banter in those parts. Anyway, it reminded me of Maryam Hedicule. 'Is attending a dinner party on which one expects to dine out to the last syllable of recorded time dining out?'"
"Scarcely a dinner party," observed Tobermory, who was lying on the hearthrug. "No dinner. And a remarkable absence of party spirit."
"You must have come in late," Reginald said.
"What is this 'late' of which you speak?" Tobermory enquired. Without waiting for an answer, he licked his paw, and began to clean industriously behind his ear.
"Party spirit, I can assure you, was flowing hot and strong in the early part of the evening," the Baroness said. "Besides the usual crew, Maryam's guest list included two Corbynistas, a Blairite, the LibDem PPC, that slightly odd man who keeps standing for Police and Crime Commissioner on an 'anti-corruption, the country's run by a secret cabal of paedophiles' ticket, Boris Johnson and David Cameron's pork butcher. At first, of course, they all hung back with decent British reticence, but once Maryam reminded them that small talk was verboten and the objective was 'meaningful conversation' they rose to the occasion with verve and alacrity. And, of course, once they'd started, the rules of the game precluded anyone knocking them off balance with comments like 'Somerset were robbed for the County Championship' or 'Mourinhno, eh? Will he have a job come Christmas, do you reckon?'"
"Was that why the police ended up being called?" Vera, who had been sorting through the music on the lid of the grand piano, looked up.
"Not the first time, no." Mrs. Pentherby's ringing tones shattered what vestiges of peace remained in the room. "The first time was when Maryam handed out cards offering, as a choice of topics for dinnertime conversation, 'If and how to hold public officials accountable for their actions', 'Who (besides our significant other) would give up a kidney if we needed one', 'The theory of suicide prevention' and 'The art of the dominatrix.'"
At the latter, the Baroness snorted knowingly. Bertie van Taube muttered something about limited train connections to the West Country, and made himself scarce.
"I can see why the kidney one might have struck the De Ropps as peculiarly unfortunate. Given what happened to their daughter. The rest, I suppose, one could pass as mild trolling --" Reginald said.
"Delightful for you," the youngest Huddle girl said forthrightly. "Not for those of us who had to retrieve Seraphine von Gradwitz from the bath. And stitch her wrists up afterwards. And cope with that guy who was screaming about Samaritans Radar being the biggest mass surveillance racket in recorded history. And --"
"We know," Clovis said, semi-mendaciously. "Anyway, chaps, let's raise our glasses. A toast, to good old British repressiveness, and an obsession with the weather."
It was passed by acclamation. There was only one dissenter.
"I do love the idea of freedom to discuss meaty topics at social gatherings," Gabriel-Ernest said sadly.
On the one hand we have Introverts! Get Over Yourselves! Get Out There And Socialise! (do we think that the writer thinks that MANNERS would also require submitting to unwanted embraces from relatives, etc? because it would Hurt Their Feelings if you didn't.)
This intersects just so much with the standard female obligations to grease the wheels of social life.
On another, we have these people who want small talk to be banned. Well, I am no great fan of small talk, which I am very bad at, but I also resist the ukase to speak only on those topics traditionally Banned in the Mess (sex, religion, and politics, as I recall).
Also, this reminds me all too much of Mr Mybug going around asking women 'do women have souls', which he presumably thinks makes him look DEEP.
And in other news, have spent far too much time over the past day or so endeavouring to give my mobile phone provider moolah so that I can have a new phone with more memory and, I hope, a better turn of speed, and I keep getting a transient message saying 'Please check the page for the following errors', without, you know, actually describing what the errors are, after I have put in my card details and clicked continue and it shows all the signs of transaction going through.
Several attempts, tried different cards, different browsers, and if doing it via tablet made a difference. Also ringing my card provider to confirm that their initial security block had been lifted.
I tweeted about this and so far the response has been, does your local store have the model in stock? (they do, but I can't even do click and collect. Also, I was rather hoping not to have to trek to a physical shop.)
Tell me again that this is a society of instant gratification.