William and Lucy: a Tale of Suspicion and Love, by Michael Brown, is a well-plotted first novel that loses its pacing in world-building and exposition. When people are actually
doing things, rather than being described, it’s a strong book — and I’d like to see more by the author. When another slab of descriptors, complex as an old English
fruitcake and as long as that cake’s ingredient list, gets plopped onto the page, I feel less certain of that. Brown sets out to show us Wordsworth’s
enigmatic Lucy (stick with this; it’s fantastic, especially if you were an English major) — and also tells us a hell of a lot about what Lucy, William,
the squire, the barkeep, the maid, and the children are wearing.
Michael Brown can write a cogent sentence. This is an achievement. But he is a television writer — he builds worlds and constructs images for a visual medium,
so he’s spoon-fed his readers a lot of the imagery and ideas in William and Lucy. He should have focused on the people and the plot instead. They’re
interesting people (mostly). It’s a good plot.
Sensitive Lucy and grumpy, artistically-temperamented William meet cute among the untrodden ways, and their romance blooms amidst allegations of treason, suspicion of theft, forced employer sexytimes, and a DRAMATIC FLIGHT IN DEAD OF NIGHT. The book should have raced along. It did, but the way a terrier races along, at a good speed until something shiny pops up that Brown would like to show you. Now. Reader, can you see Wordsworth? Can you? Can you if I put more words that make a picture? A clear picture? Isn’t a clear picture the BEST picture? How about now? Brown has definitely done his research — period junkies will find this about eighty-five percent spot on, no slouching into the vaguely Georgian here — and he’s not going to let an iota of it slip off the page at the plot’s expense. (I hope he gets over this in his next book. Breathe, Mr. Brown! The canon isn’t going anywhere.)
I find I have this sort of balance problem with a lot of TV-writers-cum-fiction-writers, though (Suzanne “Hunger Games” Collins, I’m looking at you),
and those authors go on to make a pot of money, so maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. I don’t need hyper-realistic dialogue — just realistic enough
will do, thanks — and I don’t need a shelf’s worth of adverbs and adjectives to get through the narrative underneath. I have an imagination and a
general idea of what people wore in England in 1798. If one more thug, barkeep, or mysterious AND YET IRRELEVANT, NE’ER
TO BE MENTIONED AGAIN personage had been described in scintillating detail across the pages of William and Lucy, I would have been had to defenestrate
the book (mysteriously. In dead of night. Wearing a long cloak. Possibly speaking French.)
Michael Brown has written a nice debut book here. There is emotional payoff almost right up to the end. The premise, too, is a fascinating one — Wordsworth
wrote five poems referencing “Lucy,” and no scholar has really put a finger on who she was. Will Wordsworth get to keep his newfound love? Will he get to keep his neck the same length it is now? Will Lucy’s relationship with her charges and her employer be her undoing?
I was glad to read the novel. I just knew an awful lot about William’s tailoring, his drinking habits, and his speech patterns — his really super perfect and thus not so believable speech patterns — by the end. I would call William and Lucy a solid three-star effort, suitable for historical romance readers and lovers of poet laureates. I would also remind Mr. Brown that
he might be a very good teavee writer, but his dialogue for books needs to pass the parking-lot test. To wit: if you can’t read your dialogue out loud in a parking lot without saying “Hey! Wait! Nobody talks like that!” (The previous line of dialogue probably fails the parking-lot test. For example.), you probably need to make a second pass at that whole speech-for-characters thing before sending the manuscript over to your editor.
I see that William and Lucy won a “Best EBook of 2012” award and that Brown is working on a second book due in 2013. I would probably buy it and read it
on the strengths of William and Lucy, but I will do so with my trusty bottle of Hackenslash Brand Very Reddest Ink by my side.
One note: this e-book was very well-formatted and slickly produced. Reading was a pleasure, even in PDF. That means a lot these days, and I commend
Brown’s editors and designers, who obviously have a great deal of love for the process.
Title: William & Lucy: A Tale of Suspicion and Love
Author: Michael Brown
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 8, 2011)
Price: $9.95 (Kindle), $12.95 (paperback)