The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Audible.com Release Date: April 7, 2009
Listening Length: 9 hours and 26 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios
Pages: 373 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
I am posting this audiobook review using the format that Audible recommends:
Overall: 5 stars
Performance: 5 stars
Story: 5 stars
Q. If you were to make a film of this book, what would the synopsis be?
A. In England of the Regency period, Miss Elinor Rochdale, an attractive, twenty-six-year-old, orphaned gentlewoman, reluctantly arrives on the stage at the village of Billingshurst in Sussex for her first position as a governess since her father’s death left her in poverty. She is met by a carriage she wrongly assumes has been provided by her new employer, a married lady with a young son, when the driver asks if she has come in response to an advertisement. On arriving at a dilapidated mansion after a long drive through the night, she is introduced not to her employer, but to a distinguished gentleman in his mid-thirties named Lord Carlyon. Like the woman requiring a governess, he placed an advertisement in the paper, hence the confusion. However, he advertised not for a governess, but for a woman willing to wed his cousin, Eustace Cheviot. Elinor is appalled at the suggestion that she participate in a marriage in name only with Eustace, whom Carlyon freely admits is a drunken reprobate. His motivation for this excessively odd arrangement is that Lord Carlyon is Eustace’s primary heir and does not want to inherit from his cousin, whose loathing of Carlyon is fully reciprocated. Unfortunately, before Elinor can make her refusal immutably clear to him, Lord Carlyon’s 18-year-old brother Nicky precipitously arrives, exclaiming that he has accidentally stabbed Cousin Eustace, who now lies dying in an inn a few miles distant. Lord Carlyon increases the strength of his matter-of-fact persuasion of Elinor to marry his cousin to such an extent that she is carried away by the force of his personality and the utter confidence in milord expressed by every person in his vicinity. Within hours she is Eustace’s wife, and within hours after that, she becomes a reluctant widow.
Q. What does Cornelius Garrett bring to this story that you would not experience if you just read the book?
A. For a novel to work well as an audiobook, two factors are essential: (1) It must be exceptionally well written in order to thrive beneath the intense scrutiny of being read out loud at a fraction of the pace that a reader could read the book silently to herself. The Reluctant Widow passes that test with flying colors. (2) The narrator must be an excellent performer, able to convincingly portray every kind of character, from old to young, male or female, and different nationalities. Cornelius Garrett is one of the best narrators I’ve ever listened to, achieving all of these requirements magnificently. When I had previously read this book to myself silently, I thought it was mildly amusing but not one of Georgette Heyer’s funniest books. Mr. Garrett does such a fabulous job of acting out each of the characters, however, I was frequently laughing out loud due to the skill of his remarkable performance.
Q. What was one of the most memorable moments of The Reluctant Widow?
A. There are endless things to love about Georgette Heyer’s Regency comedies, but a particular brilliance of hers as an author are her quirky casts of subcharacters, each drawn with a wonderfully unique voice. In this particular book, my two favorite subcharacters are Nicky, Lord Carlyon’s youngest brother, and his gigantic, sweet-tempered, but poorly trained dog Bouncer. The two of them are absolutely hilarious, both separately and together. Heyer creates a great deal of comedy from lovable Bouncer’s well-meaning, guard-dog mistakes. The funniest scene with Bouncer for me is when he misunderstands Nicky’s command to keep Elinor safe by guarding her while Nicky runs an errand. Bouncer wrongly interprets Nicky’s order to mean that he must guard Elinor as if she is a dangerous individual whom he must not allow to escape. As a result, dear old Bouncer refuses to allow her to stir out of her chair for long, irritating hours until Nicky returns and calls him off. The many failed efforts of Elinor and the household staff to bribe Bouncer to let her go are hilarious.
Q. Which character--as performed by Cornelius Garrett--was your favorite?
A. It is hard to pick only one. Of particular note is Mr. Garrett’s performance of Nicky’s adorable, youthful enthusiasm, the country wisdom of the butler Barrow who has a thick Sussex accent, and the sweet, unworldly remarks of Elinor’s middle-aged, former governess and current companion, Miss Beccles (nicknamed Becky).
Q. Any additional comments?
A. I was delighted to discover this recording, which offers me the opportunity to enjoy one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors in the form of an outstanding audiobook.