Finally I got to do some BEACH READING at the beach. Saco Bay in Maine is a delightful vacation spot.
I don’t think any modern author can really match Jane Austen, but this book by Joan Aiken stands well on its own. The heroine, an illegitimate child from an upper class family, thrives against the odds in a community that specializes in fostering unwanted children until their families (maybe) decide to help them out. Eliza is bright, and takes advantage of every opportunity to learn. Travel and adventure are her rewards. When all else fails, Eliza bursts into song! Silly as it sounds, the plot works and I enjoyed the book.
The person who loaned me this book said it was “funny”. Usually I would ask “What kind of funny?” since there are so many possibilities, but I was distracted. So I jumped into the book without preconceptions.
Is there a category of “over the top” fiction? Everything seems exaggerated, a little extreme, often in ways that are indeed hilarious.
Analogy: Recently I took a colorful photograph of a brightly colored insect. Fooling around with the “edit” function on my cell phone camera, I discovered color adjustment settings called “vivid” and “dramatic”. I would say that Mary Wesley writes in those two settings. The net effect is slightly manic but loads of fun. Yes, this is entertaining modern fiction.
A Dubious Legacy is set in post World War II England. Another categorization would be “comedy of manners”. A group of young adults congregate in the country home/farm of Henry B, whose eccentric wife dominates the book without being “present” very often.
A Dubious Legacy makes it clear why Women’s Liberation (one descriptive term of many…) emerged in the 1960s. The men of the 1950s (as described by Wesley) were insufferable jerks and it’s amazing any marriages survived at all. Wesley has fun turning the career “issue” upside down. The young women WANT to marry, while their parents, tempered by the Depression and World War II, want their daughters to go to work, even at tedious jobs.
A Dubious Legacyreminded me of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, which everyone liked except me. A group is followed for years, generations. I found Commonwealth unbearably grim. Yes, life includes suffering. Did these people have to suffer SO MUCH? I like Wesley’s lighter touch so much better. Some people and situations could have been more fully explored, but I understand Wesley started writing late in life, driven to it by financial pressure. So I’m willing to suspend criticism and enjoy her madcap story telling.