Charlotte Baird, an heiress with her own mind, meets Bay Middleton, a well-dressed womaniser who finds himself appreciating her frankness and kindness. Despite disapproval from a whole cast of family members their romance seems to progress easily – until Bay is asked to look after Empress Sisi of Austria while she rides with the hunt. Her beauty and riding ability captivate him, and he finds himself drawn into an affair with the lonely, powerful and ageing woman.
Daisy Goodwin has a talent for finding extremely intriguing subjects for her books. Her other book, My Last Duchess, drew me in for Robert Browning poem, one about which probably everyone who reads it wants to know more. And this one, the enigmatic vision of Empress Sisi, darling of Austria – again a compelling mystery that was the deciding factor in my reading the book. Good choices, Daisy Goodwin.
In both books she uses a different take on the focal point. Here, though we see the viewpoint of each main character, my sympathies lay mostly with Charlotte Baird. Probably because she was the one not sleeping with someone they shouldn’t be. She’s a good heroine with her own thoughts and interests: she is a keen photographer, and will say what she wants to say. And her story is a fun romp around Victorian society, with a fair share of ridiculous characters, royal cameos and interesting insight into the culture: from hunting to photography.
But sadly, with Charlotte and Bay, there seems to be a lack of real attachment. They fall for each other quickly, and I find it hard to believe that a sensible girl such as Charlotte would really be so naive. And that Bay would ever actually find himself happy in this marriage. The characters seemed held at a distance, even at the end of the book I didn’t hugely feel I knew or cared about them.
Plus the writing seemed a bit like an American putting on a post British accent – trying just a bit too hard to sound authentic.
But overall it was an enjoyable read, with a good amount of tension and uncertainty. In conversation with one of my friends she expressed a wish for challenging chick-lit – and I think this is probably it.
Thank you Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy.