Sunday, January 08, 2006

An Infamous Army

Georgette Heyer

This is pretty unlike any Heyer novel I've ever read, except for Cousin Kate, which was just, despite an engaging hero and an heroine I liked, freaking weird. Infamous Army takes on Waterloo, and is, in consequence, remarkably dense and serious and prosy and chewy and historical, which are all the things I read Heyer to take a break from.

It is Heyer, though, so the writing is excellent, and often lovely, and the characters are brilliant, but the problem is that there are two narratives here, which conflict with each other oddly in tone and temperament. The story of the battle, before and after, is the backbone of the book, and takes up most of the last third of the book. These scenes are incredibly detailed and so not particularly fast-paced, but in Heyer's hands they stay fairly lively and interesting.

The only problem is when the scenes devolve to impersonal minutia. For the most part, she personalizes the war, setting up touchstone characters we care about, to give the reader some leverage inside the chaos. But she can't always pin the story to the characters, and in those pages (and pages and pages) there is a great and overwhelming urge to flip ahead.

The rest of the novel involves the social scene in Brussels (I wanted to write "whirl," there, but that would have been weird. Though it was pretty whirly), and the stormy relationship between two star crossed lovers (I didn't backspace "stormy" against my better judgment. Because it really was stormy! And they really were star-crossed). They are great characters, and I may be making it sound floofy and dumb, but it was as delicate and fun and light as anything Heyer has ever written, and so made for a bizarre kind of contrast to the heavy like bricks subject matter of the rest of the novel.

She almost just barely manages to pull it off – she documents the shift in tone in the town and manages to tie the story lines together in a satisfyingly parallel well, but when it was all war, war, war, I found myself impatient to get back to the two crazy kids.

Still, it's a good book, if a little strange in tone, though a bear to sludge through. Took me a surprisingly long time to finish.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your comments with interest, being a sometime historian with a mother who reads/read GH.

I'd say that you'd get more out of the book to read it from the *other* angle: think of it as a historical journal in which some very engaging characters are entwined.

That's how I approached it - I knew something of Waterloo but nothing of the protagonists - and it all fell into place superbly.

4:48 PM  

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