Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Proposition," by Judith Ivory

The Chick: Lady Edwina "Hot Legs" Bollash. A prim and reserved phonetics teacher, she makes a living polishing country girls and middle class daughters to make advantageous seasons.
The Rub: Does she have what it takes to turn a common ratcatcher into a Viscount? All without having sex with him?Dream Casting: Miranda Otto.

The Dude: Mick Tremore. If two wealthy brothers believe a bit of spit and polish could turn him into a gentleman, and if it'll earn him more money to send home to the family, why not?
The Rub: All this training may give him access to higher positions like becoming a valet, but it can't raise him high enough to aspire to the status of a granddaughter of a duke, whom he's quickly coming to fall for.Dream Casting: Aidan Turner with a wicked 'stache.

The Plot:
Mick: All I want, if it's not too crass,
Is a gal with legs and a sexy ass.
Who'd help to give me class oh woooooouldn't it be loovly.

Edwina: I shouldn't go near him, but I'm strapped for cash.
He's much too bold and he's much too brash.
If only he'd shave his 'stache! Oh wooooouldn't it be lovely.

Mick: Oh, so, loovly learning all the sorts of words toffs say.
Still, I'd rather sit and look at Winnie's hot legs all day!

Edwina: Someone's hand resting on my knee,
Warm and tender as he can be.
Oh foke propriety!

Oh wouldn't -- it -- be lovely!

Mick: Loovly!

Edwina: Lovely.

Mick: Loverly?

Edwina: Lo-ve-ly.

Mick: Lovely.

Edwina: By George, you've got it!


Romance Convention Checklist

1 Unscrupulous Wager

1 Awesome Mustache

2 Sexy Legs

Several Ferrets

2 Twin Con Artists

1 Cornish Tavern Dance-Off

1 Secret Heritage

The Word: Bloggers are awesome.

Blogger friends are even more awesome.

In this instance, Jessica from Read React Review is awesome. More specifically, about a year ago she reviewed a novel on her blog called The Proposition. The review alone made me rush out to my Used Book Store, try and fail to find it, then have them deliver a copy from another branch.

This book would never even have blipped on my radar if not for her review, and for this, I must thank her, because The Proposition is one of the best books I've read this year.

Essentially, it's My Fair Lady with the genders reversed. Instead of a sociopathically manipulative asshole (who cannot sing), our Higgins is Lady Edwina Bollash, a prim and horrifically repressed woman who makes a steady but hardly outstanding living as a linguist who helps polish her female students' manners and accents in preparation for social seasons.

And instead of a shrieking codependent doormat (who, if she's not Julie Andrews, needs someone to sing for her), we have Mick Tremore, a cocksure Cornish ratcatcher with an epic mustache who's very talented at putting his ferrets down the right holes, ifyaknowwhatimean.

Anyhoo, Mick runs afoul of a horny dressmaker's assistant while on a job (don't ask) and is chased into a fancy tea shop by her outraged relatives. Thanks to her unique passion for linguistics, Edwina is the only one in the shop capable of understanding his garbled Cockney/Cornish dialect and she comes to his rescue. However, his antics also catch the attention of Emile and Jeremy Lamonte, two apparently wealthy and bored brothers who engage in a bet as to whether this ratcatcher, with the right training, can pass himself off as a gentleman - specifically, by attending the Duke of Arles' upcoming ball without getting caught.

Mick agrees to the scheme because the hundred pounds the brothers promise him will go a long way towards feeding his thirteen (!) brothers and sisters back in Cornwall. Edwina needs the money as well, but she ultimately capitulates for a more personal reason: she holds the Duke, a distant relative, responsible for her precarious circumstances and the idea of parading a ratcatcher beneath the proper peer's nose has a definite appeal.

However, once Mick moves into her house to begin his lessons, she finds it impossible to remain an objective instructor. Thanks to an angsty casserole of Proper Victorian Upbringing, Abandonment Issues and Low Self-Esteem, Edwina is easily frightened of Mick - of his vitality, of his sharp intelligence his low birth can't disguise, and his truly wondrous wealth of chest and facial hair. His 'stache, in particular, sets her ill at ease.

Thank goodness for Mick! Within the first six pages, Mick does what Outlander's Jamie couldn't do in 800 pages: convince me that he is Sex on Legs and Awesome at Everything. Sharp as a tack and surprisingly self-aware, Mick is the true narrator of this novel and the hook that kept me reading. I loved reading how he learns to appreciate (and, occasionally, worry over) the differences in himself that come with refining his behaviour and language, while still holding true to the parts of himself he refuses to change.

At the same time, he's not perfect. He worries that the training he's receiving, not to mention the love he's developing for Edwina, are only addicting him to a life he can never have, a life where one can have food and hot baths and gorgeous legs every day. Even if the training allows him to apply for higher positions like a valet or footman, he's still miles below Edwina on the social ladder.

Most of all, I love the voice Judith Ivory gives his point of view - the types of language he uses, especially at the beginning, and the subtle way his own narration and vocabulary choices change as he progresses through Edwina's training. He's earthy and sexy and passionate and once he knows he's hot for teacher he wastes little time in making it known.

Edwina, meanwhile is terrified both of her reaction to him and how flimsy her upperclass superiority proves against Mick's supreme confidence and common sense - he spends the majority of the novel uncannily slicing through her layers of proper, polite, polished flimflammery to the heart of herself she's desperate to hide. The first indicator of this is when he learns her first name and immediately shortens it to "Winnie" - turning her name into an endearment, an intimacy that shocks and attracts her.

Normally, I dislike heroines who are convinced they're unattractive (not that I'm ignorant of those types of feelings myself), but in The Proposition's rare case, I adored it. Edwina is tall (six feet!), lanky, flat-chested, red-headed, and pear-shaped, and she's hyper-aware of it. To be fair, she is all of those things - she's not whinging about how her bee-stung lips are too pillowy or some crap. To Mick, however, Edwina's features translate into three strengths: great hair, a fabulous bum, and gorgeous, gorgeous legs.

Another thing I feel I should warn you if you are going to read this novel (as you must): Mick is a leg man. The opening scene is Mick's soliloquy on the tremendous pair of gams he spots while ratting a dressmaker's shop. Mick loves legs, and Edwina's got a pair to make a grown man weep - or, in this case, shave off his 'stache in return for a peek. Edwina initially doesn't believe Mick's adoration of her features, but it does inspire her to examine herself more closely, and discover for herself that she is lovely (or, as Mick insists on pronouncing it, loovly *le sigh*).

Judith Ivory is a magnificent writer, and I'm so glad I found her. Fans of faster pacing might be put off by the wealth of detail she puts into certain scenes, but for me, it reminds me of Jo Goodman and Sherry Thomas in the best of ways. She also conveys the different accents in the story in an evocative but not distracting way.

If there were any flaws to be found in the book - one might consider the Surprise! Heritage development at the end to feel a bit tacked-on, but in this case, I don't care. Mick deserves it. FIND THIS BOOK AND READ IT.


  1. I'm so glad you love this book. I have it on my list of books to read by Ivory and was hoping, hoping for a good read. I just finished reading The Indiscretion and I'm afraid it was a disappointment for me, although it did have some of the qualities you outline here.

    I'm now looking forward to reading The Proposal. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous10:17 AM

    Gaaaah! I must read this. It kind of has this My Fair Lady vibe.

  3. Anonymous11:13 AM

    So glad you liked it! your reviews are always such a delight!

  4. I must have read the same review 'cause I hied myself to the second hand bookshop near home (sadly now closed) and found a copy and thought it was absolutely gorgeous. Story (already a big fan of Pygmalion & My Fair Lady) was wonderfully woven - characters were believable and the romance rang true.

  5. Vorkosigrrl9:26 AM

    Thanks for the song parody! Shades of Mad Magazine.

    Yeah, I loved this one, too. I alos agree with Hilcia, though; I was disappointed with The Indiscretion.

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  7. If anybody is convincing me to go out and track down a book, it's you!! I ADORE your reviews and this has to be one of your best yet! I love the MY FAIR LADY lyrics at the beginning. *dies*

    Also, I too have recently discovered Judith Ivory and am really digging her books. They are all so unique and beautiful - I've only read Black Silk and Unite my Heart so far. I think I need to track this one down now though...

  8. Anonymous12:31 AM

    That is some *excellent* dream casting.

    I wasn't that crazy about this one and loved The Indiscretion. Seems fairly common to go for one or the other... -- willaful

  9. Anonymous7:52 AM

    Im have just come accoss this Blog and i Love it! i love the use of My fair lady lyrics. This site gives great reviews in a fun way that fits the genre. i'm now having to go out a find all these books. Its great Keep it up!

  10. Loovly review! A++ I love this theme (lower class hero) but I'm not a fan of Ivory. Will have to reconsider.

  11. Sigh. I love Judith Ivory.

    If you haven't already, try "Black Silk" - really fascinating, breaks or frustrates every romance convention you can think of. Or embodies conventions so absurd you think you will hate them until you realize that Ivory is too brilliant to trot them out without a very complex purpose. So the heroine's name is "Submit," and I thought "I don't think I can bear to read a novel in which every time the hero calls the heroine by her name he is giving her a hegemonic order," but then Ivory fills the history of the name with psychological complexity, and makes hero profoundly uncomfortable with using the heroine's name.

  12. yes, yes, yes. It is everything you say and more.

    One of my all time fav romances. This and Sleeping Beauty (younger man and ex-courtesan) are Ivory's best, IMO.

    I must reread this sometime soon. Thanks for a great review.

  13. Minesha1:30 AM

    I looved your poem soummary ! So Lo-verly :))