Thursday, November 13, 2008

Review: All This, and Heaven Too, by Rachel Field

All This, and Heaven Too is the story of the infamous “Mademoiselle D,” Henriette Deluzy-Desportes. After eight years as governess to an English girl, Henriette returns to France to tutor the younger Praslin children. She becomes very fond of them, but can’t help noticing that something is amiss in the marriage between the Duc and Duchesse. Eventually, rumors fly that Henriette and the Duc are having an affair, and she leaves the Praslins’ employ. Later, a scandalous murder occurs, and after the trial, Henriette flees to the United States to start her life anew.

The first 350 pages of this book are interesting and intriguing. However, after the murder and its trial, the latter part of the novel seemed very anticlimactic to me; the book simply came to a grinding halt once Henriette got to Massachusetts. I haven’t seen the movie version of this book, but I suspect the director and screenwriters did right by not including the second half of the novel in the movie.

Also, I thought the author has a little too much bias in favor of her heroine, portraying her in a way that’s almost unrealistically, cloyingly perfect. She’s a perfect governess. She defends herself perfectly during the trial. She’s then a perfect New England housewife. And, at times, this book read a little bit like creative nonfiction; there are times when the author would say something like, “Henriette must have felt…” that was a little jarring for me, considering that this is supposed to be fiction.

Field was a good writer, and she was clearly interested enough in her own family history to think that other people would be interested in it as well, but ultimately this book fell a bit flat for me.

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