I picked up The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen when it was on sale for the Kindle because I had enjoyed a previous book by the author, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall. Unfortunately I did not enjoy this book as much.
Set in the Regency era, this is a story of Miss Mariah Aubrey, who, due to some kind of disgraceful indiscretion we’re not made privy to at first, is sent away from her family to stay on a widowed aunt’s estate. She has fallen so far that she is not even welcomed into her aunt’s home: she is sent to live in the estate’s gatehouse. Only her former nanny and companion, Dixon, is with her, and they set up housekeeping. To supplement their meager stores, Mariah secretly and anonymously writes romance novels.
When her aunt dies, her cousin rents the manor house out to a Captain Matthew Bryant, successfully returned from the Napoleanic wars. Byant’s main purpose in living is such a place is to try to win back a high-society maiden who had previously rejected him, even though she in engaged to another. He meets Mariah in the meantime and they strike up a friendship, he is aware that there is some kind of cloud over her reputation.
There are several Jane Austen nods and epigraphs throughout the book, which I enjoyed. The author’s afterword says Bryant was inspired by Captain Wentworth of Persuasion and Horatio Hornblower, but I don’t think he lived up to either, personally.
The theme of the story is a good one, that though there are consequences for sin, there is grace a forgiveness from God and should be from others as well. Mariah is well-advised late in the story that “God is far more forgiving than people are, or than we are to ourselves. Society may never forgive and certainly never lets anyone forget. But God will forgive you if you ask Him” and “None of us gets through life without a tangle or two. Accept His mercy and move forward.”
But the story is disjointed in places, has some odd and unlikely plot twists, and has too many coincidences (three people on the same estate who have secretly published novels under a pseudonym unbeknownst to each other?)
Worse than that to me are unneeded references to things like Mariah being distracted by how Bryant looks in a wet shirt when she comes upon him as he’s just fallen into a pond. Do women notice and get distracted by such? Sure. But elaborating on it is just not needed. I wouldn’t want to read of the male character’s thoughts and distractions if the situation had been reversed, so why would I want to read of hers, either? Mariah also writes of what caused her own disgrace in her novel, and while it would serve (as she meant it to) as a cautionary tale to readers, it went too far. Dixon’s editing of one offending phrase in Mariah’s novel seems like an acknowledgement of that by the author, so I don’t know why she felt she needed to include it in the first place. References like this are sprinkled throughout the book:
“…aware of the modest display of decollete her simple gown allowed” (an oxymoron. NO “decollete” is modest.)
When Bryant helped guide her foot into a stirrup: “Warm pleasure threaded up her leg at his touch, innocent and pragmatic though it was.”
“She grasped the chain and fished the key from [her bodice]…Matthew forced himself to avert his gaze.”
“Miss Aubrey put her hands on her hips, causing her billowy dress to cling to her curves.”
Not only are these kinds of things unneeded, but their inclusion makes the story cheap and tawdry. I don’t remember any of this kind of thing in the previous book I read by this author and I hope they are not characteristic of her. If you’ve read any of her other books, I’d love to know, because some of them look interesting but I am just not going to read any more if they follow his pattern.
So, all in all I am very disappointed in what could have been a great story. Reviews are mixed on Goodreads. Amazon reviews are mostly positive, at least the ones that I perused. Some loved it, some did not. I did not.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)