Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose
Read for Overlooked YA Book Battle.
I wasn't entirely sure about this book because it's set in Restoration England and features a closer look at one of Charles II's many mistresses, Nell Gwyn. She befriends Eliza Rose, who undergoes a remarkable journey. Eliza's stepmother kicked her out, so she traveled to London to find her father who was looking for work there. She lands in jail but is bailed out by Nell Gwyn's mother. After narrowly avoiding having her virginity sold to a wealthy man, she becomes the maid to Nell as she begins her affair with the king. Eliza learns more about the world and her family background.
I thought the most striking feature of this novel was the comparison of three paths followed by vulnerable young women in seventeenth century England. Nell is a poor actress who confidently manipulates men with her sexuality, steadily rising in the world as a mistress to powerful and wealthy men until she secures a place with Charles II and conceives a child by him. Their friend Jemima was wealthy but she fell for the charms of a scoundrel who only wanted her wealth; her fake marriage and their very real baby lead to her fall from grace. Eliza walks a sort of middle ground, avoiding the advances of men and attempting to live respectably. However all three girls achieve relatively happy endings.
Eliza's ending, while hinting at respectable marriage, was too pat for me. She finds out early on that the people she thought were her parents were not. Through a series of events, she discovers who her family actually is but I didn't buy it.
I was also disappointed with the historical details. I've read historical novels where I felt immersed in the world, could see the details, could smell the scents. This was not one of the novels. Nothing felt anachronistic; I just didn't disappear into the world as I would have preferred. Part of this might have been a general dislike for this time period. I've always disapproved of Charles II's excesses, especially the behavior encouraged in his illegitimate son and his rowdy crowd, which is highlighted in this novel.
Overall: A fine historical novel, of particular interest to fans of Restoration England or YA historical fiction in general.
Cover: Eliza is a pretty girl with lovely hair but it doesn't really look like a historical fiction novel to me although I feel like the title and font of her name signals another time.
Read for British Book Challenge.