Friday, August 26, 2016

Review - The Silent Governess

Original Title: The Silent Governess
Series: -
Author: Julie Klassen
Published: January 1st, 2010

Publisher: Bethany House

I was ready to give this book the five GoodReads stars the other works by Julie Klassen I’ve read so far earned in their own right. However, and even when I tried, I can’t give The Silent Governess more than four. Don’t get me wrong. It is far superior to other books to which I gave four stars; but still, I can’t give it five. Let me explain myself.

Something I love about Julie Klassen’s writing is her elegance. Words flow and form beautiful sentences, the dialogues never feel forced, nor the metaphors, and she’s able to create characters you love from page one, like it happened here. Her stories are captivating, beautifully written, and this one is no exception. I love when an author writes a book with a well done research behind it. It is a true pleasure to feel she/he actually knows what she/he’s talking about, and in this book, that can be clearly seen (as in the others, too). I love the fact that Julie tells the story in the third person, but let her heroines tell the prologue and the epilogue with their own voices. It’s a very nice touch.

I must say, I’m not reading Ms. Klassen’s books in the order they were published in. That’s why, upon reading The Silent Governess I noticed lots of mystery elements I had already read in The Secret of Pembrooke Park. Those who have read both will understand: the anonymous letters, the mysterious veiled woman, and the mumblings of an old woman who’s mind is slipping, and no one pays real attention to her (but she knows the truth). Of course, this one is one was published earlier, but I couldn’t help noticing the similarities. I’m not criticizing, just stating the fact.

I loved Olivia Keene. She’s beautiful and smart, really good with numbers, and has inherited her mother’s calling to be a teacher. Something I loved about her is that, during the whole book, she stays true to herself. The novel opens with a prologue in which she’s a kid, and her father uses her quickness with math to place bets in the local tavern, something that leaves a mark on her, after the only episode in which she loses one of those bets, earning her father’s disappointment and disaffection. Years later, she comes home to see his mother being strangled, and flees after hitting the attacker with a fire-iron, fearing she may have killed him. But she doesn’t go far, and ends up at Brightwell Court, a house in which her mother used to work as a governess, and in which a party is being held. There, without meaning to do so, she overhears a conversation regarding Lord Brightwell’s son, Edward, and his parentage, so, upon being discovered, she’s not allowed to leave, and for that employed as under nurse to Lord Brightwell’s wards, his niece’s stepchildren. In despite of the book’s title, Olivia isn’t silent for a very long time. She’s soon able to speak again, though for the whole house, except Edward, she must seem mute. I guess her silence is rather metaphorical, given that she never fully reveals who she is, and where she comes from, except for a few things. 

There were some aspects I need to mention. First of all, I grew a bit tired of how Olivia was a temptation for everyone. First, Borcher, the poacher who almost raped her, if it had not been for Croome, who saved her just in time. Then, Johnny Ross, the stable hand in Brightwell Court. And then, Felix, Judith Howe’s brother. And the three of them without counting Edward, of course. I mean, I understand that servants were usually the object of such desires, but this felt a bit tiring and repetitive. And although some people thought Lord Brightwell himself was romantically interested in Olivia, we as readers (and Edward) knew that it was true he was interested, but not in that way. He thinks Olivia could be his daughter, as he had an affair with her mother back when she was a governess in his house, before marrying his wife, and she was actually pregnant with his child when she left. However, when Lord Brightwell tells Edward he thinks he may be Olivia’s father, I instantly knew it wasn’t true. Somehow I felt it was too early in the book to arise such a doubt, and that told me that Olivia wasn’t his daughter. Perhaps because that kind of revelations use to come closer to the ending of the story, but the question is that I didn’t think it was true.

Edward and Olivia’s love story is beautiful, but... I wasn’t completely satisfied with it. Julie Klassen writes very passionate heroes and heroines, and they are not the exception. A bonus point is that here there’s no love triangle, Edward falls in love with her a short time after she starts working on her house as the kids’ nursemaid, and they have lots of parent-like moments with them, like when they go ice-skating, or play in the schoolroom. But I felt like they only had a few moments together, and always with the kids present, so that couldn’t let anything more to happen. Actually, Olivia spends more time with Edward’s father than with him. I don’t doubt they love each other. But I waited a lot for them to have a truly heartfelt, emotionally open moment just for the two of them (save some furtive glances and stolen moments of closeness -like in the carpentry), and when they finally had it, it was at the very last page! Literally! It was really sweet, and very romantic, but too short! Too rushed! They passed from declaring their love to their happy ending too quickly, before we could truly savor it!

Another bonus point, in addition to the no love triangle topic, is that at the end, once the mysteries are solved, we learn who Edward’s real parents were, and get to know that his illegitimacy will deny him the earldom he thought was his during his entire life, there’s no magical solution for that. He can’t inherit, and he won’t. That door is closed. And that is what makes the ending atypical, and hence, a little gem. There’s not much to be done, no distant relative who suddenly leaves a generous amount of pounds that end’s up being the hero’s salvation, and allows him to live richly ever after. And needless to say, I liked that Olivia accepted him knowing that theirs wouldn’t be a perfectly comfortable life, because she’s no meek miss, and she’s more than ready to roll up her sleeves and work for a living. As for Edward’s true parents, I knew from the very start that Croome was related to him, in a way or another. I thought he was his father at first, so I only missed the target for a few inches. What I didn’t see coming was the identity of his real father, because his physical similarity with Lord Brightwell wasn’t entirely unjustified. He was a Bradley, after all, but the illegitimate son of the one he always considered his uncle, and Croome’s daughter, a servant in the household. Lord and Lady Brightwell adopted him, because they could never have a child of their own. And for the entire book, the family is stalked by an anonymous blackmailer who writes letters threatening to expose the truth (it bothered me a bit that Edward thought it was Olivia, but still). It was well written, and it kept me guessing to very end.

Something that bothered me a little where the unsolved matters. Like the missing cubes Edward carved for baby Alexander (Judith’s son) in the carpentry, and then those mysteriously painted ones that appeared when he gave them to the kid. Was it Croome? Probably, but we don’t know for sure. On the other hand, was Martha’s baby Felix’s child? Probably, again. And even more, I felt a bit disappointed that we don’t know how Eliza Ludlow and Mr. Tugwell’s story ended. Or at least, we don’t know if he finally proposes to her. But this three things are very small, and the story has a lot more, bigger pillars to sustain it, so they are only a tiny something I noticed.

The Silent Governess is not a book in which you can enjoy the parties and balls of the highest society, because it isn’t the point (sadly, because I like that). I guess that for many of us the word “governess” has become synonymous with “Jane Eyre” (she’s even mentioned in the little research extracts Julie Klassen adds at the start of every chapter). But here, I have to say, I saw more likeness to another Brontë sister’s work, Anne. Rather thanJane Eyre, this book reminded me more of Agnes Grey. Those who have read it will remember that both Agnes and her mother were teachers (like Olivia and Dorothea Keene), and worked as governesses, and by the end of the book, they both start a school for girls together, much like Olivia and Dorothea’s dream, that Edward helps them fulfill (by the way, Agnes Grey’s hero is also named Edward). Perhaps that book is generally less known, overshadowed by Jane Eyre, but it is still there, and it also features a governess, even when we instantly think of Jane at the mention of that word.

I did loved this book, and I was more than willing to give it five stars, but those were the little things I couldn’t help but notice. However, I will keep reading until I have devoured each and every single book written by this amazing author! If you like historical novels (especially Regency), hers -along with the classics by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters- are the best I’ve ever read.


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