Happy January! On December 31, I finished reading my last book of the year: Friendship and Folly, by Meredith Allady. It is the first book in the Merriweather Chronicles, so far a two-novel and one-novella series about a group of family and friends in early 19th-century England. It was published in 2012, so is one of the more recent books I’ve reviewed on my blog.
The beauty of Friendship and Folly, however, is that you wouldn’t know it was written in the twenty-first century just by reading the story. In fact, I’d wager that you’d think you were reading a book written two hundred years ago. Yes, Ms. Allady was that good at evoking the voice of the past and the feel of a historical period. For example: she didn’t get out of the story to even drop an explanation or definition of a term or custom; she used all the correct words, dialogue, and syntax (occasionally I had to reread a paragraph to catch the meaning, and then smiled over the insightful thing she was saying, just like a Jane Austen!); and her characterization was accomplished in the same way as in old novels (i.e., memorable and solidly described personalities).
Set in 1805 England, the story is heartwarming because it’s about two friends, Ann Northcott and Julia Parry. Julia is part of a wonderful family that any normal person would wish they were friends with—Ann is consistently grateful for them—because they’re hospitable, fun-loving, genuine, and down to earth. Ann is an only child whose parents are dismissive of her; her mother is only concerned about getting her married, which appears to be a difficult task, since Ann is not especially beautiful and also has a hip injury that affects her walk and prevents her from dancing. (And how could anyone back then get a spouse without being able to dance?)
When the Parrys, through a set of circumstances, decide to go to London for the Season, Ann accompanies them and they meet with several adventures. Clive, Julia’s younger brother, tries to fend off from his sister suitors he deems foolish or foppish. But eventually the family meets a couple of young men who suit their sensibilities, and they welcome them into their circle as “friends” … what follows is an often hilarious series of misunderstandings, false estimations of the young men (mostly on Ann’s part) and a gradual unraveling of their story, and intriguing “anything can happen” visits with amusing acquaintances, all on the whirlwind stage of a London autumn. Ann learns lessons about friendship and meddling—or folly, as she calls it; but she and the members of the Parry family grow only closer together as they are forever changed by their adventure.
The story could be considered slow in some respects, but that’s because it reads like a classic. It’s all about witty dialogue and penetrating insights into personalities and relationships, so the pace is perfect. And there were times when I had to tear through the pages to find out what would happen next. So it definitely kept my interest! The prose is incredibly clever. I enjoyed the look at characters and situations that Jane Austen perhaps touched on but didn’t explore—among other things, a whole family portrait where the young children actually had names and lines; a look at the Irish rebellion; an endearing character who wasn’t quite right in the head; the ins and outs of a London season; and several unequivocal references to characters’ spiritual beliefs.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Jane Austen (particularly if they appreciate her humor and character insight most of all!).