I read Cecilia Grant's A Lady Awakened not so much over Christmas as on Christmas, ignoring my partner’s family, the Queen’s speech, and even Toy Story 3 to finish reading it. Because it’s honestly that good. I think it’s unavoidable to make more of the things you read at the end of the year compared to the beginning, but A Lady Awakened simply has to stand has one of the most original, intriguing and tiny-mind-blowing books I read in 2013.
The book opens with the heroine, Martha Russell, childless, newly widowed and about to return to her brother’s home to live out the rest of her days as a quiet burden upon his family, a fate she has no choice but to resign herself to enduring. Her solicitor, however, encourages her to remain at her late husband’s estate until it is absolutely certain that no heir has been conceived. Martha knows that she isn’t pregnant, but she has her own commitments to Seaton Hall: specifically the servants and tenants, who rely on the family for their livelihood, and the building of a local school, to which she has given her support. She also learns that the man who stands to inherit is a dissolute character, who previously forced himself upon some of the women of the household. Realising that all these problems would be solved if she was pregnant, Martha strikes a deal with her new neighbour Theo Mirkwood, temporarily exiled from London for extravagance and general debauchery. They’ll have sex every day for a month, and Martha will pay him, “regardless of issue” to quote the lady directly.
What follows, I suppose, is a lovers-to-friends story, except they’re not really lovers because while their daily sexual engagements are...something. What they’re really aren’t is lover-like, much to Theo’s dismay. Martha is determined that the arrangement remain strictly business, and while the first half of the novel is this excrutiating awkward-off of unsexy sex it’s also completely fascinating to watch two people with completely irreconcilable worldviews, motivations and value systems clash, fail to understand each other, and then gradually, and subtly, begin to move through acceptance, and understanding to friendship and love. And to situate the most visible expression of all this emotional and intellectual development in the bedroom is unbelievably bold, clever and impressive. Ms. Grant, I totally take off all my hats.
Full review is over here
at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Yay!