February 18, 2011

Book Review || My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin

My Last Duchess was an impulse buy from Exclusive Books – my hubby was purchasing something and that meant I had to as well (not that I'm complaining).

It was the only novel that caught my eye - aside from the regular Terry Pratchett novels I’m still missing from my collection – because when I’m not giggling at the Discworld, I do like to indulge in some old-fashioned historical romance.

My Last Duchess is about Cora Cash, an exceedingly wealthy American heiress whose mother is intent on having her wed into a family that will give her a title. Something along the lines of ‘princess’ would do; so would ‘duchess’.

When we meet Cora, I wouldn’t say that she’s particularly likeable, but Daisy Goodwin surrounds her with such detail and gorgeousness that one can’t help but become involved. As we read on, the characters around her become more intriguing, and the scenes more opulent – eventually you feel drunk and addicted to the lavish descriptions of Cora’s outfits, the rooms and estates, the train stations and forests, the meals and outings – every detail is there in all its precision.

As Cora makes peace with her journey to Europe, she starts off as a confident American woman with all the power of wealth behind her, but she is thrown into a world filled with history, jealousy, betrayal and secrets. When she meets the 9th Duke of Wareham, she could never guess how deeply she would fall in love with him, nor how tricky the European aristocracy was to navigate.

The world Cora finds herself in dominated by those who fail to show their true feelings. She is set up time and time again for embarrassment, and her husband is so difficult to read that she eventually feels helpless and alone – even her mother is unconcerned with her feelings – she has her title after all.

It is now that we see who Cora truly is - determined, brave, loyal, strong... she becomes someone we can connect with despite her obscene wealth.

It is only her maidservant Bertha in whom she can confide, but Bertha has her own opinions about Cora and the situation, and despite indulging in Cora’s hand-me-downs, she is a judgement figure in the novel and offers a delightful foil to the extravagance of the Cashs and the aristocracy.

Some would say that the novel is completely self-indulgent, but I think that the novel is balanced, true to history and society, and a truly enjoyable read.

This is Daisy Goodwin's first novel. If you'd like to find out more, click here, or follow Daisy on Twitter (I am!).

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