Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly - Karleen Koen [These notes were made in 1990:]. In the befuddling hierarchy of the publishing world, I believe this "best-seller" comes a step above the drugstore romance, although it shares at least its physical characteristics: an embossed cover and an inordinate number of pages. Mercifully, it also has a far more interesting plot than the standard romance pattern, and the language is considerably more skilful, although by the end, I found myself irritated by a few repeated errors ("thusly" - aargh!) Plot? fifteen-year-old beauty, country-bred in eighteenth-century under the rule of a matriarch, is given in marriage to an older man (Barbara and Roger). Barbara has a brother (Harry) disappointed in love who will later turn to wild living and duelling. So far, so conventional. But Koen does not have her older man fall passionately and all at once for his naive (hence the title) adolescent. He marries her because he has dreams of large developments on the London property she brings with her. But he is fond of her too, not least because she resembles her dead grandfather, Richard, with whom Roger was in love as a young man. And yes, that is where this novel departs radically from the usual commercial romance pablum, for Roger is bisexual, and tho' he never got beyond gazing at Richard, he had an affair with a man (Phillippe) before his marriage to Barbara, and Phillippe, a French aristocrat, reappears shortly after the marriage. Barbara discovers, about p. 415 or so, that her husband is sexually involved with Phillippe, leaves him, and has a couple of adventures herself (two men fight a duel over her). At all stages of this plot, the characters act and talk in a way consistently more credible than in a standard romance; the gradual growth in Barbara's sophistication from ages fifteen to twenty is particularly well done. (There is a big jump in time of four years between chapters, but her growth is already evident). Well, anyway, Roger and Phillippe slide apart: Roger and Barbara are reconciled, but only just before he has a fatal heart attack, Barbara ships off to the New World to look after some plantations for grandmamma, and faithful cousin Tony looks as if he might just get the girl after all in the sequel which is all too obviously being set up. On the whole a good read - I quite enjoyed it.