While I admired much about Cecilia Grant's debut novel, I didn't love it. A Woman Entangled caught my eye because it promised all the things I love most. Class conflict. Toxic family dynamics. Social climbing beauties. Younger sons. I was ready for Grant to bring it on. Ultimately the experience was the same as our prior hook up. A Woman Entangled took me months to finish and left me dissatisfied. (Is there a reading equivalent of bad sex?) Our heroine, Kate, is a social climbing beauty desperate to reclaim the social status her father's uneven marriage cost him. She alternatively positions her goal as being for herself, or for her father, or for her siblings. It's never for her mother, because everything about Kate's goal is a rejection of her mother's self and that is something Kate would rather not consider. Kate prefers to consider more reader friendly things. Here Kate is reflecting on a potential suitor:
"Perhaps he followed Mr. Brummell’s regimen of a daily bath, instead of the usual cloaking of one’s odors in perfume. Though it was difficult to imagine he paid much heed to any of the Beau’s dictums. Likely he disdained the man for living profligately and then fleeing his debts, if he hadn’t already disdained him for an excessive preoccupation with the trivial matter of personal style. And that was presuming he even knew who Beau Brummell was. He very well might not." - Cecilia Grant, A Woman Entangled
There's no point whatsoever to this passage. Much like the later passages on various Jane Austen books it feels forced and indulgent. A shouting of "Regency Tropes, I am in you!". Beau Brummell never comes up again. He isn't a friend. He's a celebrity that our characters may or may not have followed in the media of the day.
"Perhaps he followed Miss Kardashian's regimen of a daily bath, instead of the usual cloaking of one’s odors in her designer perfume. Though it was difficult to imagine he paid much heed to any of Kim's dictums. Likely he disdained her for living profligately and then fleeing her wedding debts, if he hadn’t already disdained her for an excessive preoccupation with the trivial matter of personal style. And that was presuming he even knew who Kim Kardashian was. He very well might not." Cecilia Grant and Meoskop
I strongly suggest we institute an immediate Kardasian test on the inclusion of historical characters not directly involved in the character's lives. If Kim can wear the shoe, toss it out of the wardrobe.
I wanted to love Kate. She was my favorite character in the book. Kate is so very self aware. She wants a path out of the middle class life her parents value and one back to the life of empty luxury her father left behind. I was frustrated by the resolution of her desires. In the end Kate comes to realize she valued the striving more than the goal itself. As the reader, I can't agree. Kate barely tastes the gilded world she longed to inhabit before embracing the economically cautious one in which she was raised. During that experience she lives at the edges of the family disharmony without fully exploring it's depths. Kate is neither embraced nor renounced. She is unspoken, even when being spoken to. We are to believe that Kate comes to value her open relationship with Nick more than her constrained and conditional one with her extended family. I can get behind that but only if I believe it. Kate goes too quickly from a cautiously shocked kiss under the stairs to a total willingness to have her first sexual encounter in a stranger's crowded home. I found it hard to believe that a woman of her control would so easily cast that aside.
Nick is hungry for status of his own. His life on the edges of the nobility has become painfully difficult following his brother's marriage. Having rejected his brother in an attempt to preserve his own ambitions, he initially castigates Kate for hers. Willing to have sex in stairwells and with casual acquaintances, he harshly judges his brother's wife for doing the same. A woman who fucks you for free is a friend. A woman asking for financial support is a whore. it seems a curious line to draw, but draw it he does. Granted, the misalliance of courtesan and gentry is not to be understated. It is completely authentic to me that Nick would lose status and find his ambitions beyond reach.
Yet Nick is still greeted by old friends. He is still welcomed in many fine homes. We are not shown Nick struggling for clients. We are told he is and invited to watch him wallow. I had the same problem with Nick that I had with his sister Martha in Grant's first book. Why, when his focus has been solely on maintaining the good opinion of Kate's family, would he take her to his rooms? Why would he consider her an unsuitable wife for a man with upwardly mobile goals when she herself is rigidly in pursuit of them? Why would he blame her for having an actress mother yet bring his most important client to that women for instruction? Why? Why? Why? Nick is a straight up whiner. His better moments elevate him to sequel material but he fails to convince me he is not going to disappoint Kate.
A Woman Entangled is likely to have many readers swooning. It's a Masterpiece Theater set piece of a book, hitting all the right marks in all the right order but ultimately leaving me distant and cold. The sexuality is original and important enough to the story development that I skimmed little of it. The reinforcement of family over finance is not seen often enough in the genre, despite my overall dissatisfaction with it's implementation. Grant remains at the edges of my awareness. She is an author I can neither embrace nor dismiss.
*This review first appeared at Love In The Margins.