Billed as ‘the bastard child of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Sarah Waters‘, this more or less lives up to that promise in terms of plot: some City businessmen wish to purchase titled husbands for their daughters, and come up with a hare-brained scheme involving piano lessons to show off the girls’ wealth and accomplishments. Unfortunately, their French music master has been incentivised to seduce each girl before they master Herr Bach.
So far, so Dangerous Liaisons, albeit in a different social sphere and with the interesting contrast of the shadowed gloom of the piano maker’s workshop.
But there are surprises in the narrative. Not all the girls are what their fathers think. There’s nothing Monsieur can teach young Alathea musically or sexually, and she’s both more persuasive and more inventive he is than he. Add in Annie, the disfigured daughter of the embittered piano maker, and you have far too many adjectives and a few too many conspirators plotting against each other (sorry).
Expect everyone to be out to sleep with and harm almost everyone else, and you won’t be far off the mark. The novel is awash with social sniping, petty plots and the waltz into moral dissolution as the girls become rivals for Monsieur’s affections (and each other’s).
Sadly, many of the characters felt cartoonish – the aspiring parents and the Drigg daughters in particular are well-trodden stereotypes even the Brothers Grimm would recognise. That said, I appreciated the understated friendship that bound Harriet to Georgiana, and the unexpected bond and character reversals of Annie and Alathea.
This is colourful but surprisingly modest for a bawdy novel of seduction and liberation; unlike Waters, Grant prefers metaphors and implication over full-bodied romping. Her focus here is on the girls’ emotional and attitudinal shifts, transfigured by all their lessons in unexpected ways – some gaining grace even as they lose their reputations, others settling further into their thin stereotypes.
I found it entertaining, but it lost me at the climax, which strayed into farce with shades of Regency morality tale in terms of just desserts dished out.
I picked this up thinking it was something my grandmother might enjoy. Having chosen to
read vet it first, I feel obliged to note that it’s only suitable for grandmothers who are comfortable with (non-graphic) lesbian romping and incest. Mileage will vary 🙂
Pet peeve: authors who can’t use a map, or choose to ignore geography because they want to drop in a place-name that has no place on the sensible course of the journey in question.