Whilst it is no secret that I have always longed to be Elizabeth Bennett, I recognise it takes a substantial leap of imagination to regard me as a suitable Austen heroine. I may be witty, wise and well-read (stop laughing at the back there) but not many folk would describe me as ladylike or consider me capable of holding my own at the local County cotillion. So introduce me to a Regency heroine with just a dash more rebellion in her soul than our dear Lizzie and I may just fall head over heels in love. Enter stage right Georgiana Ellers, the protagonist of Reputation. She is my new obsession and I know you will love her too.
When her parents decide to move to the coast, Georgiana is unceremoniously dumped on her aunt and uncle, where she leads a stiflingly dull life of embroidery and early nights. Desperate to ease her boredom, a chance encounter with controversial socialite Frances Campbell sees her thrust into an exciting new world of unchaperoned events, serial drinking and a surprising variety of drugs. (Jane Austen must be turning in her grave). But as the novelty of this alternative existence begins to wear off – unlike the hangovers – our heroine must choose which path she really wants to follow and who her true friends are.
Described as the love child of Bridgerton and Fleabag, this book is brilliantly funny. Croucher creates an expert pastiche of an Austen novel, skilfully poking fun at the very elements of the genre that this book ultimately espouses. Of course there is a dark and brooding love interest (I want to marry him immediately) and of course there is a scene where he is both muddy and dripping wet (seriously, now please) but the author manages to both parody and embrace this set piece in such a way that it is still charmingly romantic. Georgiana is fiesty and quick of wit, filling these pages with great humour, and is surrounded by a cast of other superbly created characters. From Mr Burton, her reclusive uncle, to Jeremiah Russell, the charming cad courting Miss Campbell, each individual is expertly painted on the page. Behind this humour the book also has great substance, dealing with serious issues including the societal condemnation of homosexuality back then and the utterly impossible role women had to play. Croucher has expertly balanced satire and social commentary in a way that makes this novel an absolute gem.
I have been known to exude significant snobbery in the past towards those who think they have a right to bastardise my Jane (I wrote my dissertation on her, therefore we are clearly besties) but this is an exception. Witty, wise and well-written, I thoroughly recommend that you read this. In fact I insist. You won’t regret it.