While traveling around the various literature and history fan blogs, I noticed Georgette Heyer's name pop up a lot in reading lists. She was mentioned as a nice addition to the libraries of Austen lovers.
Well is she?
Yes and No.
If you love the Georgian time period, Heyer will satisfy your cravings. She has a great grasp on the culture and style. She also has a talent for enlightening modern audiences on the many etiquette rules that governed life at that time.
However if you want an Austen clone, Heyer will never do. I've only read two books of Heyer's at this time, Venetia and Frederica. Both of them have lovely stories and charming heroines. But Heyer's stories lack that bite of Austen's writing. Austen's books are filled with pointed social commentary and at times thinly disguised, sarcastic rage. In fact, in most Austen's novels, I always find it surprising that her heroines even manage to get married to their true love at all. Because obviously their creator didn't believe in love or thought it extremely rare and if lucky enough to win love, one must willingly make huge sacrifices for it. Most of her heroines only marry due to twists of fate in order to forestall social ruin. But marry they do with the best of hopes. They are a stark contrast to Austen who remained single because she wanted her freedom.
So no, a reader will not be regaled with wicked asides by the narrator regarding social hypocrisy in Heyer's books. Heyer wisely deduced that she could not equal Austen in that area and still keep her stories bubbly and bright. She does excel in charm and good plotting. Heyer also has a good grasp on humor turning her stories into very enjoyable comedies. Her books are commonly relegated to the romance section purgatory in book stores. I think this is an awful place for them because Heyer's stories are not strictly romance. They are romantic comedies and more than deserve their place in the regular fiction area not in the romance novel ghetto.
The area in which Heyer can equal Austen is her male protagonists. They are well written, level headed, cynical and sometimes, unapologetically womanizing. But she neither makes apologies for these male heroes weak points nor does she celebrate them. I enjoy the fact that these male characters marry after much thought and personal sacrifice. Marriage or love isn't presented as a salvation but something that a character gives into...a sign of maturity.
I highly recommend Heyer's work, and I can't wait to get my hands on more of her books.
Labels: books, commentary, culture, reading, reviews