Fiction: “And Only to Deceive” by Tasha Alexander

and only to deceiveAnd Only To Deceive had been in a memo on my phone for at least a year, and I had marked it as “want to read” on Goodreads back in March of 2013.  I can’t remember when I first heard of it, but I’m glad I put the title in two spots, because when I went to the library a couple of weeks ago, I got the two titles I had reserved (a Quickbooks manual and Redwall, and you’ll see that title show up later in another post) and then spent the customary half-hour browsing the shelves in the branch, looking for another few titles to weigh my arms down.

I was very proud of myself that I only left with a total of four books (this one and a volumization of Matt Fraction’s first issues of Hawkeye, which is another title you’ll be seeing soon).  So before I get into this review full throttle, let’s all take a moment and revel in the fact that this might be the first time in at least two years that I am actually reading books quickly enough that I might – might – not actually incur any overdue fees!

Okay, enough about that.  And Only to Deceive takes place in late-Victorian England, and our star is Lady Emily Ashton, a widow almost out of mourning.  Her husband, Philip, died while on his annual big game hunt in Africa.  Emily fully admits that she married Philip because he seemed nice, and getting married would get her harridan mother off her back.

Because seriously, Lady Bromley (Emily’s mother) is the worst mother in fiction I’ve read since Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.  And apparently I rate “worst fictional mothers” differently than some other people.  I mean, looking back through books I’ve read recently, an argument could be made for Miss Havisham being an absolute version of “worst,” but she didn’t even pop into my head initially.  Basically, Lady Bromley gives Mrs. Bennet a run for her money when it comes to meddling in her daughter’s life, trying to make sure Emily’s reputation as a widow remains forthright in order to allow her to marry again.

But here’s the thing – widowhood (widowdom?  widowism?  San Diego-uns?) has really suited Emily.  She never liked society.  She knew she had to marry (because all the single ladies had to marry back in the day, regardless of who was putting rings on things), and so she chose Philip because again, he seemed nice, and he would be out of the country at least once a year hunting in Africa.  Emily has always had independent tendencies, and being the ruler of her household has suited her well.

Philip was a scholar of antiquities, and following his death, Emily becomes curious about his scholarly pursuits, and she finds herself becoming greatly enraptured with studying Greek artifacts, as well as The Iliad which, true confessions: I’ve never read.  But now I find myself wanting to.

The more she reads his journals and studies his intellectual works, the more she finds herself falling in love with her dead husband.  In addition, she’s breaking some of society’s rules: instead of drinking sherry and retiring to the drawing room after dinner, she elects to remain in the dining room with the men and drink port.  Her female dining companions – including her mother – is horrified.  How dare a woman drink port?!

Sidenote: I have tried port and I did not like it.  My friend Emily drinks port on the occasional.  But my favorite after-dinner drink has always been Jose Cuervo Black and Coke, so maybe my tastes aren’t as refined.  Also, I motion that all women named Emily should drink port.

Okay, anyway (drink!).  Emily discovers that some of the antiquities her husband collected before his death aren’t copies as she assumed, but the actual original pieces.  Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but when the British Museum (!*) has those same pieces in their collection and they are supposed to be the originals but the originals are stored in your country house … that’s not making your dead husband look too well.

*Oh, the British Museum.  I have wanted to go to there since I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and learned that Giles came from there.  The British Museum is where they make Gileses!

Seriously, #ProTipsForDudes: If you want to take me on an interesting date, take me to a museum.  The sad thing is that there really aren’t that many interesting museums in Maine.  I mean sure, the Portland Museum of Art is nice, but I’ve seen that already.  And the Museum of Science in Boston?  Been there, done that, would’ve bought the t-shirt but admission was $20 and the shirt was another $34 and not really that funny.  But if I ever go to New York – the Met, the MoMA, the Natural History Museum … like, Times Square is not on my list of Things I Have To Do in New York City, but three museums are.

(My mother, who is the absolute antithesis of Lady Bromley, will shake her head at my statement about loving museums, because I know she remembers the fits I’d go into when faced with spending a day at “historical” “learning” sites, like Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg, and I want to say there was a botanical garden in Florida?)

So Lady Emily takes it upon herself to investigate the matter, and she has help from her friend, Ivy (whose husband is used throughout the book as a Voice of Conservative Reason in that society, but not vocalizing his dismay at Ivy’s partaking of the port – but that is turned on its head when, at the end of the book, he actually teaches Ivy and Emily the proper way to partake of port and reveals that he doesn’t really care what his wife drinks, as long as she drinks it correctly.)  (Which leads me to believe that my habit of mixing aged tequila with caffeine-free diet cola would horrify him.)

Emily also has two suitors for her widowed hand, Colin Hargreaves and Andrew Palmer.  Both men were friends of her husband, and she also suspects both men of being involved with the antiquities thefts.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  There is enough mystery surrounding Philip’s activities and enough twists and turns to keep me interested in the plot, and Lady Emily is a wonderful voice.  She is independent and resourceful, intelligent and inspiring, and I would want to be friends with her, but I suspect I would have to read The Iliad first.

Grade for And Only to Deceive: 4 stars

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