One of the great pleasures of my life — and probably yours too — is making exactly the right book recommendation to someone. It’s not as easy as some people think it is. You can’t just love a book and then hand it on to everyone you know; there are virtually no books that are suitable for everyone. (And we’ve all encountered people who thought they were — “Oh, I loved this, I know you’re going to love it too!” Er, no.) You have to know the person, know what other books they’ve loved, even know what kind of mood they’re in or what their state of mental and physical health is like. Someone who has just had a baby is not going to be reading the same books as someone who has just retired. And so forth. But when you get it right, and the person comes back to you and says, “Oh, I loved that book!” it’s like having created something, like introducing someone to a person they’ll have an ongoing relationship with.
So obviously I was very nervous about recommending Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring to my summer book group. (We focus on strong female protagonists, and my fellow members had expressed a lot of doubt about romance novels.) I could have recommended one of her books to one member of the group without too much trepidation, but a) I hadn’t read this particular book, and b) I was making the recommendation to an entire group! Still, I did my homework — I called on Lisa, my favorite Georgette Heyer (and Dorothy Dunnett, and Dorothy Sayers, and…) reader, and I felt happy about what she offered.
The Talisman Ring starts off with an arranged marriage. Lord Lavenham, on his deathbed, decides that Sir Tristram Shield will marry young Eustacie de Vauban — this, despite the fact that they don’t suit each other even a little, and that Eustacie is longing for some adventure before she settles down. It isn’t long before she decides to go seek that adventure (she heads off to become a governess, and an occupation she is less suited to could be ill-imagined) and adventure certainly finds her, in the shape of her cousin Ludovic, whom everyone thought was on the Continent after allegedly committing murder. In fact, he is working as a smuggler, and as soon as Eustacie runs into him, she decides he must obviously clear his name. It only needs the addition of young Sarah Thane (far more sensible than Eustacie) and her brother Hugo to complete the party at the local inn, and a villain — but I’ll say no more.
My book group approached this novel with great trepidation. “Bad Jane Austen,” they said, in the first few chapters. “Limp Scarlet Pimpernel.” But then, as soon as they realized that Heyer was doing a hilarious send-up of the entire genre, that the romance wasn’t headed the way they originally thought, that there wasn’t a cliché to be found, and that the women were much stronger than it may at first have appeared, they all succumbed! Admittedly, Heyer’s romances aren’t deep. This is light, frothy reading — wonderful fun, like watching a farce where people are pushed on and off stage at precisely the right moments. But at the end of a long summer, it was just what we all needed.
Have you had any good (or bad) experiences recently, recommending books to people? What’s your favorite book to recommend?