I am a big fan of Carla Kelly's historical romances, so I can pay Susanna Fraser no higher compliment than to say that An Infamous Marriage
is very Carla Kellyesqe. The plot, the pacing, and the characterization are all excellent. The story of how this marriage of convenience becomes a love match is deep and moving.
Actually, the plot is rather simple. Around 1810 newly knighted Major General Sir John (Jack) Armstrong returns to his family home in Yorkshire after years with the Army in Canada. He finds that his widowed mother has lost her mind and that his lifelong best friend, Giles, is dying. Giles persuades Jack to promise that he will marry Giles's soon-to-be widow, Elizabeth. Neither Jack nor Elizabeth is happy about this, but Jack is determined to keep his word and Elizabeth is a penniless, friendless widow with no options, so two days after Giles's funeral, off to Scotland they go. There is a need for speed because Jack has only a couple of weeks leave before he must return to Canada. By mutual agreement, he leaves with their marriage unconsummated.
Jack spends the next five years in Canada while Elizabeth nurses his mother and runs their horse-breeding farm. They write one another faithfully once a month and in that manner come to know, and indeed like, one another. Elizabeth grows from being a somewhat timid miss into a competent and confident woman. After a couple of years, however, gossip from Canada makes its way back to Elizabeth, and to everyone in her village. Jack has been indiscreetly carrying on with several other women, at least one of them married. Elizabeth is humiliated and virtually withdraws from local society. And then, Jack comes home.
Elizabeth immediately confronts him – a great scene, by the way – and informs him that she very likely wants a separation. The largest part of the book is the story of their eventual, sometimes uneasy, reconciliation. They argue; they hurt one another; they enjoy physical passion. This happens a little too fast for my taste, but the author shows a very realistic progress from a marriage of convenience to a partnership based on mutual respect and love.
Then, Napoleon escapes from Elba, and Jack is recalled to the army. Elizabeth is terrified and doesn’t want him to go, but Jack feels a strong sense of duty and something else: his entire self is wrapped up in being a soldier, and he tells Elizabeth that he finally feels whole again. Elizabeth accompanies Jack to Belgium, where she learns of a secret that Jack had been keeping from her. Yes, it’s that darn old secret-keeping, which really I could have done without.
This review doesn’t really show you what a beautiful, finely-crafted, moving story this is. So I’ll just have to tell you: this is a beautiful, finely-crafted, moving story. You should read it.
I am bewildered by the number of negative reviews of this book that are based almost entirely upon the Jack’s infidelity. Yes, during the five years that he lives 3,000 miles away from the wife he doesn’t love – doesn’t really even know – and didn’t want, he cheats. That is what makes this story of his profound regret and grateful redemption – and Elizabeth’s reluctant forgiveness -- so poignant. That is what makes this truly a love story. As one anti-cheating reviewer wrote, “I don't like infidelity in a romance, but if it has to be there, then this is how it should be done.”
Read this book.