In Cecilia Grant’s book A WOMAN ENTANGLED, Kate Westerbrook, of the disgraced branch of the Westerbrook family, is beautiful, has cultivated her beauty, too, like a crop meant to solve the world’s hunger problems.

She understands, keenly, her beauty’s lack of durability, its frustrating transience, how it must be exactly paired with charm and social responsiveness, how much a hair toss, precisely timed, matters.

She worries over her beauty, and her charm, and wit until they are worn stones in her pocket, compulsive touchstones that reassure her that for at least another day, there is hope.

Because, Kate, she is playing a long game, a game that looks backwards and forwards at the same time, a game that forces her to be alone in her sensitivity to a scandal that took place before she was born and predicts difficulties her own children could face if the world refuses to change as it should. She is incredulous that she should be the only one to grieve the loss of her father’s extended family, lost to his own choices and crushing institutional sexism, and she is desperate that she be the one to bear all the potential suffering of this loss, if she is unable to wield her beauty and charm as so much embroidery silk—mending and mending and mending.

Every time she looks at her younger sister, Rose, observes her anxiousness and depression as a victim of bullying at her finishing school, every single time Kate sees it in the smallest change of Rose’s posture, Kate touches her stones and she rallies and she compartmentalizes, a little more, every small part of herself that is herself, that is even a little untidy, or needful, or messy, or grasping, or simply says, inconveniently, I want.

Kate is not, as the copy suggest, at least to me, ambitious, Kate has designated herself and the accident of her beautiful genes as a graft between two generations who she believes need each other to go forward, to secure the happiness of everyone who comes next. She will not accept loss; she will not accept that the grief passed through its time before she was born. She of course, sees the evidences of her broken family in Rose, in the genteel shabbiness of her mother’s home, even in her father’s tenacity that his choice of love above all other considerations was big enough to grow over the losses.

I can’t help it, I resist, my heart in my throat, tight and lodged, Kate’s friends’ and family’s assessment that Kate is a cold pragmatist, and the book’s evocation of Elizabeth Bennett, and Kate’s struggle with Lizzie’s prejudices and the prize of Pemberly’s shining balustrades in spite of them, is a deeply complex literary guardian of Kate’s motivations. One way, Kate’s desire to stupefy a wealthy and titled man into marriage, a man that could only be introduced to her if she is vouched by the Westerbrook matriarch that has cast out her family, is evidence to her inability to feel acceptable desire—the desire for the truly loving marriage her parents share and have suffered the costs for. Another way, Kate’s desire for love is so great she is willing to forgo love to have love visited on every single subsequent Westerbrook that follows her own life. Rose will be free to love, with or without balustrades. Kate’s children. Onward, because yes, she understands love very well.

She tightens this tether around her own needs and wants, buckling them in like a child in a carseat, I can’t help but think, understanding Kate very well, yanking the strap that secures them against anything that might jar them loose.

Like loss. Or love.

There is a way in which, that speaks to the great argument of this book, that I root for Kate to wear down the prejudices of the reigning Westerbrook matriarch and so gain entry into the ballrooms, have her dance card thusly filled by marquess after marquess, and smile in such a way in the right dress and under the right number of candles that the stupefaction of some kindly marquess with 10,000 a year is managed. From such a position, then, she calls the terms of her life, she ascends as the matriarch, pardoning her own father, legitimizing the eccentricities of her siblings as accomplishments, watching her own children marry for any fucking reason they wish.

I almost wish, in fact, that Nick Blackshear would just stop looking at her.

A barrister without his own land holdings and unable to see the way through his own ambitions due to his brother’s scandal, he is an agonizing foil to Kate’s mission. What’s more, they both have come to this understanding. She does not direct her charms to him, he is not in receipt of them, he alone, in fact, will do what he can to assist her in her campaigns to win her father’s sister-in-law, they have all but shaken on it, or at least, stood in close proximity under darkened stairwells steeped in choking sexual tension on it.

What this book accomplishes that Austen couldn’t manage, is love without the ease of the balustrades and loss acknowledged, but not mended. If I rooted alongside Kate, my voice grew hoarse and distant, and then quiet inside the empty room above a ballroom that should have been Kate’s marquessed triumph, and instead was the ache of catharsis as Nick brought her to orgasm, their bodies still entirely clothed, all barriers between them.  After this, Kate wants and needs for herself, and in fact, all she has are her needs, and her wants, even her gown is borrowed.

Nick’s arc is an echo, in way, of Kate’s father’s. Nick’s brother married himself and the Blackshears out of proper society by falling for an unacceptable woman. Like Kate’s father, Will accepts the consequences in the face of the gains of love and the chinks in the monolith of sexism. Kate’s father’s brother, despite his love for Kate’s father, never stepped over the rift, and so the grief of this riff was visited again and again and felt keenly by Kate. Nick makes a different choice, but we have absolutely no reassurance that choices made for the benefit of the human heart, and not society, will be enough. Much is said, in this book, of the hope of the world changing. Maybe, maybe, it is choices like Nick’s like Kate’s, when she lets herself love him, that change the world.

The triumph of this book is that Nick and Kate do not know, and yet, choose love anyway.

Elizabeth Bennett did not have to make this choice; she made love behind the gleaming balustrades.

Nick and Kate have only the other’s hands, to hold under their table.

***Giveaway*** Three commenters, who comment by Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 at 8:00 a.m. EST, at which time the giveaway will be closed, will be chosen at random to receive digital copies of Cecilia Grant’s A WOMAN ENTANGLED. Void where prohibited.

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15 Responses to Cecilia Grant’s A WOMAN ENTANGLED

  1. Emma says:

    No need to enter me in the giveaway; I already read and loved A Woman Entangled. Just commenting to say that I think Grant is brave and maybe revolutionary. All three books in the Blackshear series are different (no repeated structures or patterns here) and each features at least one protagonist who is about a quarter tone flat, so to speak. They aren’t reversals of genre expectations. No, nothing so simple. The scheming, ultra moral widow; the unrepentant and angry courtesan; the preternaturally responsible beauty (because I think you’re right, it’s not ambition, it’s a sense of responsibility to her family and herself that drives Kate): if you squint, you can imagine them in another, less ambitious, book, but they’d lose their texture, the traits that make them unlikeable but also real.

    If it’s not clear, I mean this to be a compliment. I think Grant is writing some of the most interesting historical romances being published today. At every level — intellectually, emotionally, and artistically — they work for me.

    • Mary Ann Rivers says:

      Agreed. And you know, I didn’t want to spoil too, too much, but I know that there are those that wonder about the end of this one, and I will just say, for me, it’s perfect, because these choices that Kate and Nick make? They are, inherently, unsatisfying. They are without resolution. They are brave because there will always be, in their lifetime, a frustrated catharsis. And it hurts, it congests the blood right in your heart, but for me, it’s such a novel kind of experience with a HEA–fresh and aching, both.

      Grant really confronts Austen here, and in doing so, makes new arguments. There’s such an elegance, here. It’s a quiet kind of read, but one where your fists clench, too. God, every time Kate looks at Rose, for example, and just kind of *straightens* herself in new resolution. . .god.

    • A.J. Larrieu says:

      “brave and maybe revolutionary”–yes. I think Grant is pushing romance in exactly the right direction. I hope we get more of this kind of risk-taking (and gorgeous writing!) in every romance genre.

  2. Evelyn says:

    Now I am intrigue to read this book

  3. JC says:

    I’ve heard such rave reviews of Ms. Grant’s books. You’ve convinced me to move her from my to-be-read pile to the shorter read-this-now pile. Thanks!

  4. A.J. Larrieu says:

    Forgive we while I totally nerd out about how much I adored this book.

    I loved A Woman Entangled, and I loved your comment above, that Grant confronts Austen with it. There are SO MANY Austen echoes throughout the story, moments that recall, but don’t exactly replicate, Emma’s matchmaking and Elinor’s pragmatism. I couldn’t help thinking this was a book Austen would have written had she been permitted to write sex scenes.

    The biggest “Austen echo,” for me at least, was the way Grant insisted that Kate not “quit her social sphere.” We see this theme over and over in Austen’s works, I think, but especially in Emma, and I lost count of the number of times I caught allusions to Emma in A Woman Entangled. In some ways, the arc of it is classically tragic–Kate sacrifices her wants to fit society’s expectations, rather than the other way around. Grant made the HEA turn on Kate’s realization that her talents could be employed in her life with Nick, rather than used to improve her station. (Side note: I think it’s interesting that Pride & Prejudice, which gets the most direct mentions in A Woman Entangled, comes the closest of all Austen’s novels to forcing society to bend for the HEA.)

    It was an amazing book. No need to enter me in the giveaway–I already read it. I’ll read anything Cecilia Grant cares to write, probably twice. :)

  5. Dee Feagin says:

    Before I read your review I wasn’t sure I wanted to read about a heroine who seemed so self-centered and determined on her own goals but she’s not that at all, is she? Kate seems to be a woman totally consumed by the driving need to “fix” what she sees as wrong in her family’s situation and all she has to use is her one asset, her beauty. I will read this book now, and I thank you for a thoughtful, intelligent review that caught me by surprise and made me think…and think.

  6. erinf1 says:

    Wow… what a very thought provoking post! Definitely puts things into perspective. Reading the blurb makes this book sound entirely different. Thanks for the awesome analysis and review. Definitely going to be checking out this book!

  7. Kim says:

    Cecilia Grant always writes the most unique characters. In this book, both Kate and Nick want to rise above their station in life. This is quite different from the choice that Will made.

    It was a change of pace to see a romance novel that didn’t revolve around a duke. I found it somewhat sad, however, that for all her introspection, Kate never quite understood that her father was happy with his choice.

    Kate grew up in a loving home where the females in the family were encouraged to think for themselves. More than once, Nick admired how she won an argument by marshalling the facts like a barrister.

    If Kate had chosen a title and a secure future for the rest of her family, she would forever be playing a role. Being in the aristocracy means always living by certain rules and the fear that one wrong move means banishment again.

    Instead, Kate will be working to change things for everyone. While Violet writes and champions for equality in one way, Kate will be working with Nick to affect changes in the law.

  8. Viridine says:

    I’d love to read this book… I’d love more to read the love stories of Captain and Mrs Harville, and of Fanny Price’s parents… Do such exist? Anyone want to have a go at it?

  9. Sharlene Wegner says:

    I have been looking forward to reading this book. Excellent review!

  10. Jess says:

    I have been excitingly anticipating reading this series and now it has moved even higher up on my TBR list. Clearly, Ms. Grant has a talent for overturning the typical in her writing. While I love the story of the plucky young woman marrying an earl as much as the next girl, I delight in finding the happy ever after in the more difficult situations.

    I was with non-romance-reading friends when I purchased Ms. Grant’s A Lady Awakened. These friends stared with confusion at my delighted cackle over the promise of bad sex in one of my sexy books. But when one tires of the sexy business as usual, it is good to know there will be authors like Cecilia Grant there.

  11. Jen says:

    Really lovely write up! I’m in. :)

  12. It’s possible Grant can accomplish what Austen could not because our time allows us to see the scope of history, to see the change Kate wants. Austen lived a small life and only had the benefit of the present and past.

  13. Justine says:

    I know it’s sacrilegious that I do not adore Austen and Pride and Prejudice, but I do greatly admire Cecilia Grant, so A Woman Entangled may actually help me appreciate Austen and P&P more.