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Thank Heaven Fasting Hardcover – Import, 2000
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This is not a novel of action, but rather of subtle interplay between Monica, her domineering yet loving mother, and various friends of the family. It is poignant and fascinating, and has a setting filled with lavish detail. If you enjoy Edith Wharton in particular, you will likely enjoy this book as well.
Monica is a brainless airhead, but also somewhat manipulative. Her parents love her, but are incredibly and unkindly controlling and her father likes all their conversations to be very much "on the surface" (which suits Monica just fine). She is a naive debutante in the beginning of the book. She is seduced by a charming captain and allows him to kiss her passionately. The story gets out and Monica is virtually ruined. Because he kissed her. She thinks he's in love with her, but he fails to propose and sails for India. I was hoping this was the moment when Monica would emerge from her trauma with a mind of her own. Nope. Monica admits to herself that her mother was right about everything. Men never propose to "cheap" girls who admit liberties like the kissing. And being proposed to is all that Monica now cares about. Love is meaningless. That's the message of the book. This is the Anti Pride & Prejudice. Monica is a Charlotte Lucas, only stupid.
After her first season, Monica becomes a wallflower during balls at which she was once the belle. Her beauty fades. Her sparkle is gone. She and her mother are worn out by worry and despair over Monica's failure to find a man. Her father is killed by a taxi. Monica wastes time becoming the confidante of a guy who is in love with a married woman, thinking that he might end up proposing to her. The guy is a creep. She knows it, but she wants him to propose anyway.
The last section of the book is entitled The Happy Ending. I was hoping this was the moment when Delafield would relent and cut her heroine some slack. Nope. Just more of the same. When Monica finally receives her long-awaited proposal, it's from an old guy with prawnlike eyes. She is SO grateful. She marries him. The book ends with her prayer that she will be a good wife, and if she has a child, it will be a son.
It's weird that the satire is so flat, so humorless. You never see Delafield peering out from the pages with a wink or a nod, as you do in the Provincial Ladies book. It's as though she's not there at all. It's so dry, it's dried up. So detached, you will be, too.
Does the chauvinism of Victorian England really deserve this prolonged, plodding, humorless satire? There were happy marriages then -- look at Victoria and Albert! This book has got me defending Victorian mores!
THANK HEAVEN FASTING bears no resemblance to the Provincial Lady (much less a Jane Austen masterpiece). I am truly sorry to have to write this review, but people who go looking for more from the author of the Provincial Lady should be warned.