I’m going through a rough patch. And last night, as I was trying to decide what novel to read, my mind gravitated once again to Lisa Kleypas’ Love in the Afternoon. This is my comfort book. It is my warm chocolate cake of romance novels.
I mentioned Love in the Afternoon in my first ever post on this site (which became my “about” page for this blog):
Then, one day, I saw Maureen Johnson on Twitter railing against the term “trashy books” and talking about how only a certain type of book, those (mainly) written and consumed by women, get this derogatory title. And that the truth is, most literature is crap. Among “trashy books” there is total shit, but there are also amazing gems written as well as the best literature I have ever read. Johnson’s tweets were timely for me because I had just read Lisa Kleypas’ Love in the Afternoon, which is one of my most favorite books ever and I didn’t want to put it on Goodreads at the time because it was a romance novel. But I also felt compelled to tell everyone about this amazing, emotional, and beautiful book I had read.
And here’s the thing: I’ve never actually taken the time to “tell everyone about this amazing, emotional, and beautiful book.”
This is me doing that.
As a lover of animals and nature, Beatrix Hathaway has always been more comfortable outdoors than in the ballroom. Even though she participated in the London season in the past, the classic beauty and free-spirited Beatrix has never been swept away or seriously courted… and she has resigned herself to the fate of never finding love. Has the time come for the most unconventional of the Hathaway sisters to settle for an ordinary man—just to avoid spinsterhood?
Captain Christopher Phelan is a handsome, daring soldier who plans to marry Beatrix’s friend, the vivacious flirt Prudence Mercer, when he returns from fighting abroad. But, as he explains in his letters to Pru, life on the battlefield has darkened his soul—and it’s becoming clear that Christopher won’t come back as the same man. When Beatrix learns of Pru’s disappointment, she decides to help by concocting Pru’s letters to Christopher for her. Soon the correspondence between Beatrix and Christopher develops into something fulfilling and deep… and when Christopher comes home, he’s determined to claim the woman he loves. What began as Beatrix’s innocent deception has resulted in the agony of unfulfilled love—and a passion that can’t be denied.
This is the fifth and final book in Kleypas’ Hathaway series, which is about an unconventional family in mid-nineteenth century England. I love this whole series and I believe this was the last of the five that I read. So, I was familiar with the characters and their pasts before reading this one, though I don’t think you need to be at all in order to enjoy this book.
When I was thinking of finally writing this post and trying to do this book I love so much the justice it deserves, I decided that instead of really analyzing the plot or the characters (all of them are awesome), I would just quote a lot of my favorite passages and gush over them. So, SPOILER ALERT in effect.
As the summary above says, Beatrix, pretending to be her friend Pru, becomes pen pals with Christopher while he is away fighting in a war. Perhaps my favorite chapter in the entire book is chapter three, which is simply a series of letters back and forth between Beatrix and Christopher. It is through the writing of these letters that they fall in love. Here are some excerpts:
Families are grieving for the lives I’ve taken. Sons, brothers, fathers. I’ve earned a place in hell for the things I’ve done, and the war’s barely started. I’m changing, and not for the better. The man you knew is gone for good, and I fear you may not like his replacement nearly so well.
I imagine walking through the Stony Cross forests with you. I would love to see some commonplace miracles, but I don’t think I could find them without you. I need your help, Pru. I think you might be my only chance of becoming part of the world again.
I’ll tell you what I’m fighting for. Not for England, nor her allies, nor any patriotic cause. It’s all come down to the hope of being with you.
Dear Christopher, Love forgives all things. You don’t even need to ask.
I carry thoughts of you like my own personal constellation. How far away you are, dearest friend, but no farther than those fixed stars in my soul.
Still … I love you. I swear by the starlight … I will not leave this earth until you hear those words from me.
I didn’t mean to send love letters, but that is what they became. On their way to you, my words turned into heartbeats on the page.
When Beatrix first sees Christopher after his return, she knowing what they have between him, him still ignorant and believing he had corresponded with Beatrix’s friend, Pru:
She wanted to run to him. She wanted to touch him. The effort of standing motionless caused her muscles to tremble in protest.
Their first flirty, sweet interaction:
“You don’t have to be sorry for disliking me,” she said. “Only for being discourteous.”
“Rude,” Christopher corrected. “And I don’t.”
“You don’t what?” she asked with a frown.
“Dislike you. That is … I don’t know you well enough to either like or dislike you.”
“I’m fairly certain, Captain,” she said, “that the more you discover about me, the more you will dislike me. Therefore, let’s cut to the chase and acknowledge that we don’t like each other. Then we won’t have to bother with the in-between part.”
She was so bloody frank and practical about the whole thing that Christopher couldn’t help but be amused. “I’m afraid I can’t oblige you.”
“Because when you said that just now, I found myself starting to like you.”
“You’ll recover,” she said. Her decisive tone made him want to smile.
“It’s getting worse, actually,” he told her. “Now I’m absolutely convinced that I like you.”
Beatrix explaining to her sister how she feels about Christopher, his return, and that he does not know she wrote the letters:
“There have been a dozen times in the past when I should have liked a particular gentleman. When it would have been convenient, and appropriate, and easy. But no, I had to wait for someone special. Someone who would make my heart feel as if it’s been trampled by elephants, thrown into the Amazon, and eaten by piranhas.”
I will not spoil the scene where Christopher finally realizes that it was Beatrix all along (that scene had me gasping, laughing out loud, and then sitting on the edge of my seat). But I will spoil what happens right afterwards. Beatrix flees the scene when Christopher realizes, fearful of his anger. He tracks her down and asks her why she would do such a thing as pretending to be Pru. He claims it was a mean game that she was playing and she says that it wasn’t at all. And then:
“I fell in love with you, and I knew I could never have you. I couldn’t pretend to be Pru any longer. I loved you so much, and I couldn’t—” Her words were abruptly smothered. He was kissing her, she realized dazedly. […]
Christopher forced her to look back at him. “Loved?” he asked hoarsely. “Past tense?”
“Present tense,” she managed to say.
“You told me to find you.”
“I didn’t mean to send you that note.”
“But you did. You wanted me.”
More tears escaped her stinging eyes. He bent and pressed his mouth to them, tasting the salt of grief. Those gray eyes looked into hers, no longer bright as hellfrost, but soft as smoke.
“I love you, Beatrix.”
Maybe she was capable of swooning after all.
I AM SWOONING.
And everything seems great and perfect but you know you’re only halfway through the romance novel and so…
“When are we going to marry?” she asked, her voice languorous.
Christopher brushed his lips against her cheek. He held her a little more tightly. And he was silent.
Beatrix blinked in surprise. His hesitation affected her like a splash of cold water. “We are going to marry, aren’t we?”
Christopher looked into her flushed face. “That’s a difficult question.”
“No it’s not. It’s a very simple yes-or-no question!”
“I can’t marry you,” he said quietly, “until I can be certain that it will be good for you.”
“Why is there any doubt of that?”
“You know why.”
“I do not!”
His mouth twisted. “Fits of rage, nightmares, strange visions, excessive drinking … does any of that sound like a man who’s fit for marriage?”
The second half of the book is how Beatrix and Christopher negotiate their love, his PTSD, and her desire for a future that she wants to start immediately.
There are beautiful moments and hard moments. Christopher is frustrating and Beatrix is impatient. But high holy hell I love these two characters. I just do.
Thank you, Lisa Kleypas, for this book, for the comfort it brings it me every time I read it.
Needless to say, I give Love in the Afternoon 5 out of 5 stars.