Someone to Hold, by Mary Balogh

17 Jun
A young white woman with dark hair worn in a loose chignon high up on the back f her head, wearing a white dress, not quite empire waist,  with three-quarter sleeves. The background is clearly the city of Bath, with one of the most famous bridges, viewed from the countryside.

This novel, set just a few months after the end of Someone to Love, tells the story of the second daughter of the late Earl of Riverdale. I first read the first three books in what is now ::checks:: a nine book series just over four years ago, while struggling with the neverending reading slump from hell. As I’m still struggling with that, because ::gestures widely at the world::, I’ve re-read them recently. And, as I need blog fodder, here’s my review.

Content note: I curse a fair bit, because the whole “blood is thicker than water” schtick so many genre romance authors cleave to gets on my ultimate nerve. (see footnote 1)

Someone to Hold, by Mary Balogh

For twenty two years, Camille Wescott was Lady Camille, eldest daughter to the extremely wealthy Earl of Riverdale. Following her mother’s example, she’s the poster girl for “perfect young woman of Britain’s haute ton”: perfect manners, perfect poise, landed the perfect betrothed. Who knows, maybe if she’s perfect enough, her father will love one day her.

Which, natch!, it’s more “he gives everyone the middle finger from the grave”, when it turns out Camille’s mother, who believed herself a wife for over twenty five years, is now the mother of “bastards”.

Her brother Harry, still shy of majority, joins the Riflemen in the Peninsula. Her mother Viola deposits Camille and youngest sibling Abigail with their maternal grandmother in Bath, then flees to the small village where her brother is vicar to do penance in obscurity.

Eventually, after a few months of hiding in abject shame, Camille realizes that she has to do something to dig herself up and out; she needs to find out who she is now, if she hopes to have any sort of life, let alone a future.

How to do this? Go work in the self-same orphanage the legitimate daughter was raised in, and worked at, of course! (see footnote 2)

Joel, on the other hand, was raised in the same institution. He was Anna’s closest friend, and for a while believed himself in love with her. Now that’s she’s very happily married, he’s coming to realize that “vaguely romantic feelings” do not mean “full-on, head-over-heels, romantic love of a lifetime”. He’s a moderately successful portrait painter; with his star on the rise (he’s finally able to afford renting a proper studio), and very aware of the difference art has made in his life and future prospects, he volunteers as an art tutor twice a week at the orphanage.

And their worlds, obviously, collide.

Here, have ye olde back cover blurb:

Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery…
 
With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.
 
An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead…

Camille is what some readers call “a difficult heroine”. There’s quite a bit of self-flagellation and mis-directed hatred (at herself, at Anna) over her father’s villainy and her mother’s desertion. “I can’t let my family love me/openly support me socially/support me financially in any way, because ::cue dramatic music:: I’m a bastard!”

Then it clicked. Camille is just twenty two. She’s lived an incredibly sheltered and artificial life. She doesn’t know how to do her hair, for fuck’s sake; it’s a wonder she manages to dress in the mornings without a live-in maid to help.

In all her life, Camille has never had to figure out who the person beneath the honorific “lady” is. Now she’s one of the people who, up to the fateful revelation of Anna’s legitimacy, would have been even beyond contempt; the people whom proper ladies never mention, even when they’re their own husbands’ or parents’ by-blows: she, Camille, is a bastard.

And her only defense against pain that goes to the depths of her soul is to be haughtier even than when she had a right to be haughty; she’s cold and detached in an effort to protect herself from the disdain, and even active contempt, of the people of her own class.

Joel, on the other hand, is quite well adjusted, all things considered. He’s generally upbeat and content with his position in life. He has friends (and a friend with benefits), a career that affords him some financial and creative freedom, and a ‘home’ of sorts in the orphanage and in Anna, even if their relationship must be more distant now that she’s married.

While he occasionally feels the lack inherent in knowing his true name or why his parents chose not to keep him, at least someone paid his keep in a good place, with enough food and care for children to thrive. Hell, someone even sprung for art lessons, which meant he can now make his living painting, rather than continue working at a butcher’s shop (the original apprenticeship arranged for him by the orphanage).

However, this explains nicely why, later on as ::cue suspenseful music:: things are revealed, he is shaken and conflicted, and why he struggles a bit when it comes to his feelings for Camille, and to how to express them. (Anna, who knows him best, even says something to the effect of, “of course he’s being an idiot”. Which, mood.)

I have said before that I enjoy Ms Balogh’s writing voice, and that’s generally what carried the book for me. I believe that these two, as written, can be happy together, even as I grumble about a number of details.

(I have less patience now for the absurdity of class in British society than I once did, and since the entire premise of the series, and this novel, hinges on that, it makes re-reads iffy, as I’m harsher on what gets handwaved–are we really to believe that ever single member of Camille’s family is eager to be seen publicly with her, Abigail, and their mother? just a couple of months after everyone nodded their heads in agreement that now that they are disgraced, the best thing is to pretend they don’t exist? Please.)

The one thing that I cannot ignore is the insistence that Camille only achieves maturity, and through that maturity, “true happiness”, once she not just forgives her father, but “loves” him.

Which, to recap: the fucker not only married Camille’s mother in a bigamous ceremony; after Anna’s mother died, he *took his four year old grieving child from her loving maternal grandparents* and dropped her, through solicitors, in an orphanage a few hundred miles away, and then told said grandparents the only child of their only child had died. To top it all off, *he never wrote a new will*, so that the one he wrote during his first (and only legal) marriage left his other/second wife and her three children destitute on top of disgraced.

Why exactly does Camille need to love this utter asshole in order to be happy? I get not actively hating him, as we’ve already seen that hatred turning inwards and hurting her; and I absolutely get her learning to love herself, and working to stop resenting Anna, same reason. Making her ultimate happiness as a person dependent on loving someone who did willful harm to everyone in his family? Fuck that noise.

Someone to Hold gets a 5.00 out of 10

* * * *

1 Because synchronicity, I had this exchange on twitter just hours before writing this:

screenshot, four tweets. 
Me: "hurt people hurt people" ouch.
K.J. Charles: One of the simplest, most depressing truths, but also probably the root of all compassion. (Which, of course, etymologically means shared suffering.) It's a lot easier to divide into victim/villain than to recognise how much people are a mess.
Me: One of the things i love about genre romance is that good writers of the genre know this and are often able to thread that difficult needled (and one of the things that IRK me about the genre is when writers go, "blood is thicker than water, so let's forgive willful harm").
Nospheratt: OMG THIS. It drives me up the wall. I always get the feeling that the people selling this idea haven't dealt with this kind of harm. It's just a beautiful theory for them. Blood is thicker than water, alright. You can see that very clearly when you are the one bleeding.

2 A word about this orphanage, since it plays such an important role in the narrative: unlike workhouses in, say, London slums or Dickensian novels, children sent here (or dropped on the doorstep), are not sold or adopted out to be used as free labor.

Instead, they are raised in groups with ‘home mothers’; they are taken to church on Sundays; they are taught to read and do basic math, and eventually, they’re found positions as apprentices in different trades (bootmaker, butcher, teacher, etc). This is only possible due to the ‘generosity’ of donors who, nine times out of ten, are actually related to at least one of the children being raised there at any given moment.

Growing up there is by no means ideal; not only is the budget limited–pay for food and repairs or buy art supplies and books, for example–, but try as the staff might, it’s impossible to give the children individual attention when they need it.

Finally, I believe there is no name given for the orphanage (in any of the books!). It’s mentioned at least two dozen times in this novel, by different characters and by the omniscient third person narration, and it’s always “the orphanage”. I found it disconcerting, to be honest; shouldn’t it have been, “so-and-so’s house for orphaned children” or “saint whatsis home for foundlings” or some such?

11 Responses to “Someone to Hold, by Mary Balogh”

  1. willaful 17/06/2022 at 12:27 PM #

    Several of Balogh’s most typical tropes here. I honestly can’t read her new books any more. 😦

    • azteclady 17/06/2022 at 2:12 PM #

      Growly Cub said the same thing on twitter.

      I’m cursed these days to re-read stuff where the writing voice feels comforting and appealing, while the tropes raise my blood pressure into semi-coherent ranting mode.

  2. whiskeyinthejar 19/06/2022 at 10:30 AM #

    The one thing that I cannot ignore is the insistence that Camille only achieves maturity, and through that maturity, “true happiness”, once she not just forgives her father, but “loves” him.

    Thinking like this can get my eye twitching, the notion of forgiveness (speaking from a US citizen standpoint) seems too tied into Christianity, just say sorry and forgiven or absolution through forgiving. Forgiving and letting go are not the same thing and I hate how it’s, typically, the responsibility put on the victim. It makes a for a sweet, well that’s over and all’s well that ends well ending but ugh, No. My memory can be poo sometimes but I think it was a Victoria Dahl that I was read where she had a heroine be all to hell with that forgiveness idea and I wanted to cheer out loud.

    Have you read Truly by Balogh? I read it a few years ago it was my favorite by her, very meaty story.

    • azteclady 19/06/2022 at 3:48 PM #

      I absolutely despise the trope; for one, it removes nuance from the writing. For another, it reinforces one of the most abusive dynamics espoused by Evangelicals, Mormons, and other “traditional” variations of Christianity, whereupon those harmed can’t establish any boundaries for self-protection, and indeed, are considered to be at fault if they dare to.

      Fuck that noise to hell.

      /rant

      Truly isn’t ringing any bells, which is weird, because once upon a time I kept her backlist with me every time I went to the UBS, and own a goodly number of them. I don’t remember quite when or why I stopped, since I really liked some of them.

      • whiskeyinthejar 19/06/2022 at 4:29 PM #

        I read Truly back in 2017 and it seemed pretty unknown but I think Balogh got the rights for it and it’s now ebook format, which really helps.
        I really enjoyed it, about Rebecca Riots in Wales and had an angry bitter heroine that some reviewers hated but ooh man did I like how Balogh had her not willing to play nice. My review for it was a rambling jumble mess of My Emotions because I went through it reading it, lol.

      • azteclady 19/06/2022 at 5:50 PM #

        The blurb totally rings no bells; a bitter heroine not willing to play nice, plus Balogh’s writing voice, sounds tempting.

        I’m not sure I’m willing to add it to the humongous TBR cordillera of doom, though. I have literally thousands of books waiting for me, many by marginalized authors who deserve a chance.

  3. whiskeyinthejar 19/06/2022 at 4:31 PM #

    Err, Rebecca Riots, not rights

    • azteclady 19/06/2022 at 5:58 PM #

      (no worries, I fixed it for you)

      • whiskeyinthejar 19/06/2022 at 10:01 PM #

        Thanks!
        TBR ruthlessness, sometimes it just has to happen.

      • azteclady 19/06/2022 at 11:27 PM #

        Facts.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Someone to Wed, by Mary Balogh | Her Hands, My Hands - 20/06/2022

    […] have the emotional spoons to brave the relationship journey with an author I don’t yet know), I re-read them, and, I hope, finally learned my lesson: I cannot enjoy Ms Balogh’s newer […]

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