Phoenix, £7.99Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Season of Light, By Katharine McMahon
Saturday 23 June 2012
It takes a bold writer to tackle the epic canvas of the French Revolution, but historical novelist Katharine McMahon, takes no prisoners in her attempt to recreate the rush of events that even at the time seemed more like fiction than fact. As in a previous novel about the Crimean War, The Rose of Sebastopol, the heroine of the piece is an unconventional young woman with a taste for foreign adventure and intrigue.
In the summer of 1788, 19-year- old Asa Ardleigh accompanies her newly-wed sister, Philippa, on her honeymoon to Paris. The city is alight with revolutionary ideas and it's at the literary salon of Madame de Genlis (the mistress of the Duc D'Orléans) that she falls for a charismatic young lawyer, Didier Paulin. Secret liaisons are conducted in his rooms about the rue de Cherche-Midi, but the affair is broken off when Philippa's pregnancy necessitates a speedy return to England.
Back in rural Sussex, Asa continues to correspond with her inamorata, but her family has other plans. Employing an enigmatic emigree, Madame de Rusigneux, they hope to tame Asa's newly acquired taste for independence and prepare her for marriage with a distant cousin on whom the family estate is entailed. The foppish son of a slaver-owner, Harry Shackleford seems to embody all that Didier is not, but as the novel progresses his unsung virtues come to the fore.
But it's in 1793 that the real drama kicks off. Lured back to France by a note from Didier, Asa gets to witness first-hand the less attractive side of revolution. Louis XVI is dead and the undiluted horrors of the Terror have been unleashed. Back in Didier's hometown of Caen Asa inadvertently becomes involved with Charlotte Corday (yet to surprise Marat in his bath) and watches as ordinary citizens are sent to the guillotine at the merest whisper of political incorrectness.
Watching the dog days of the revolution unfold through the eyes of an outsider enables McMahon to convey the period's climatic events without drowning us in "le detail de tout". More indebted to Georgette Heyer than Hilary Mantel, this fluent and instructive novel captures that heady energy that, in whatever century, proves so attractive to young women seeking "very heaven" in the arms of some revolutionary youth.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who ran away after argument with her parents
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 4 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
- 5 Fifa corruption: Qatar says investigations are racist, anti-Arab and show 'ugly face' of countries who lost 2022 World Cup bid
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Touch-screen Teletubbies say hello: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are back, now with smart technology
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Game of Thrones, season 5: heavy metal rockers Mastodon cameo as Wildlings in Hardhome
Environmental Photographer of the Year 2015 award: Shortlisted images go on show
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers