Miss Bates will expose her uncouth romance-reading ways and admit she’s not keen on Brockway’s books. She read rav-y reviews about As You Desire, dutifully read it, and it left her cold. She read All Through the Night and liked it better, but wasn’t inspired to read more of the oeuvre. Miss Bates suspects that there was something about Brockway’s voice, a privileging of it, a bringing into the forefront of the narrative that made the reader too conscious of it. When The Songbird’s Seduction came along … well, there was a mitigating factor, the Edwardian setting. Surprise, surprise … Brockway’s latest won her over. The novel was charming and funny, and pulled at the heartstrings. The voice was captivating, droll, affectionate towards its hero and heroine’s youthful foibles. The distancing was still there, but it was gentler. Though it may be deemed a light read, frothy and fun, there were also lovely, poignant moments, moments of pain in the characters, whose effervescent mood and carryings-on, embracing of life, willingness to forgive wrong-doing, were endearing. And did Miss Bates mention the laugh-out-loud moments …
The Songbird’s Seduction appears to have a convoluted plot and ensemble cast of madcap characters; it is also a road romance, a delightful one, with an engaging, opposite-attract couple. There’s a poignant, second-chance-at-love, older-couple secondary romance too! It’s the secondary couple who “set up” the novel’s premise. The autumn of 1908 sees heroine, Lucy Eastlake, with her maiden-great-aunts, at their ancestral home, Robin’s Hall, northeast of London, celebrating a windfall. The elder sister, Miss Lavinia Litton, is set to gain two shares of a “tontine” (“an annuity shared by subscribers to a loan, or common fund, the shares increasing as subscribers die until the last survivor enjoys the whole income,” thank you New Oxford American Dictionary). She became part of this potential boon 51 years ago, when she was caught with other Brits, in the Sepoy rebellion. There she met and fell in love with Lord John Barton who, sadly, abandoned her, unable, for “honour’s sake,” to break off his engagement, though he loved her. Now, he wants to give her his share and sends his absent-minded, cerebral, anthropology professor nephew, Ptolemy Archibald Grant, to accompany the two ladies to St. Girons, France, where the fortune awaits them. What Ptolemy doesn’t know is that he’ll get the ebullient nutball, Lucy, operetta singer and fanciful dreamer, into the bargain.
“Archie,” as Lucy calls him, and Lucy herself are appealing characters. Lucy is a girl whose feet barely touch the ground, so imbued is she with the imaginative spirit. Lucy may be going off half-cocked right, left, and centre, but there’s a solid core to her that knows what’s what, knows what’s important and what dross. She was orphaned and tossed from relative to relative until she was taken in, loved unconditionally, and coddled by her two aunts. Lucy’s greatest qualities are the same ability to give unconditional love and loyalty … and even though she’s everything out of the ordinary in Archie’s too orderly world, he can’t resist her beauty, or goodness. Lucy is humble; she sees only the good in the world around her and has a wonderful rapport with everyone she meets, but she has no illusions about who she is. Miss Bates loved this little phrase with which Lucy refers to herself, “I’m more of a lightning bug than a star.” Lucy, in one short, witty, loveable phrase.
To show the power of Lucy’s irrepressible imagination, Miss Bates offers Lucy’s first impression of Professor Ptolemy Archibald Grant: “Perhaps he was just a stuffy professor, a stickler for rules and conformity. No, not with that chin, he wasn’t. He might try to be, but The Chin would have out. That was the chin of an undomesticated ne’er-do-well, a scoundrel and a scallywag. A pirate.” Lucy’s charm lies in how she plays Don Quixote to Archie’s Sancho Panza … even at the HEA, Miss Bates predicted Archie would play straight-man to Lucy in their marriage. Though Lucy tends to see the world through rose-coloured glasses, her orphaned difficulties and intelligence allow her to see into the truth of who Archie really is, not the stuffy professor he’s allowed his sort-of girlfriend to mold him into. His brawn and good looks and wonder over every cultural artifact and grizzled fisherman’s story suggest a spirit of adventure. Lucy’s sees the “pirate” in Archie and she sets out to bring it out in him and win it for herself. You can’t help but like this fey girl; piratical Archie is well deserving of her efforts.
Thanks to various misadventures, the great-aunts leave for France without Lucy and Archie. Archie and Lucy, in order to ensure that the aunties aren’t left too long on their own in France, ignore the warnings of rough seas, and follow them on the next ferry. Lucy’s enthusiastic “plunge” into every new experience has her exclaiming to Archie:
She spun around again, eyes shut as she speared her face into the wind and flung her arms wide. “I’m queen of the sea!” “You’re going to be in the sea any second!” he yelled, just as the ferry dipped into the trough of a huge roller.
Four hours later “I’m going to die.” A sepulchral whisper issued from the form Archie cradled in his arms.
Miss Bates thought this was a hoot! Lucy and the sea: though prepared to love everyone and everything, they don’t exactly get along. Archie, practical, planted so stalwartly and firmly, but oh-so-handsomely with his piratical dark good looks, spends much of the novel in wonder at Lucy, or saving Lucy from herself. But he learns to follow the road, to see the romance in the mundane … he has fun with her. But he, in turn, recognizes her loving ways, her kindness and trust. He loves her, he has to .. he can’t help it. She’s drags him into adventure, exasperates him and leads him down the dark tunnels of his own long-suppressed spontaneous self.
What Lucy finds in Archie is poignant and beautiful. Though the aunties gave her a home and unconditional love, they too are frail and in need of care. In Archie, Lucy finds an anchor, a fulcrum from which she can navigate the world in her own exuberant way:
… in Archie she had finally found her true home, and it wasn’t a place but a companion to share in all the adventures, the mundane and the extraordinary, the struggles and the laughter, the roads and – God help her – if need be, the seas. Home meant shelter and refuge, passion and laughter, but above all being recognized as the person one was, not the person someone else wanted them to be.
Miss Bates found this touching, moving. Being orphaned left Lucy wounded, though not diminished, never that. Lucy’s too buoyant with life, love, and laughter to ever deflate emotionally, to ever see the world as place of thwarting. But her vulnerability is worn on her sleeve. She’d like some support, a safety net. Archie is as deserving of her as she is of him. He bends to her adventure spirit by rediscovering it in himself. And Lucy … she gets her pirate … but also, her gentle, loving, smart professor.
Miss Bates thought Connie Brockway’s novel a delight, in it she found “no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Connie Brockway’s The Songbird’s Seduction, published by Montlake Romance, has been available in the usual formats and vendors since September 16 of 2014.
Miss Bates received an e-ARC of The Songbird’s Seduction from Montlake Romance, via Netgalley.
Are you a Brockway fan, dear reader? What appeal does her work hold for you? What are your favourites of her books?