Issues of status and protocol are of more importance in the book than at your average gathering of the British royal family, and Blackmore handles his subject with aplomb. Edgar’s incessant social climbing stands in stark contrast to his brother’s growing realisation that these are issues of little consequence. A moment when Benjamin chooses to go out without wearing his sumptuous wig is treated with great seriousness as Edgar is utterly horrified. And while it is all the funnier for that, it’s also a telling example of how surface appearances were of such major importance to the Enlightenment generation.
Edgar, though, is still on a mission to be accepted by the titled English snobs who wander bored through the glories of Europe. In Paris the boys discover to their horror that their lineage is even more un-English than they knew. Lavelle circles, cruel but charming, driving a wedge between the brothers that will result in tragedy. An original and spirited novel.
Benjamin, increasingly recognising his sexual attraction to other men, is rescued by the seductive Mr Lavelle, a handsome rebel against conventions. They embark on a passionate affair that leads Benjamin towards sexual and emotional fulfilment, but tragedy lurks in the wings. Although Blackmore’s third novel is a lively narrative, Lavelle, its pivotal character, too often comes across as less darkly Byronic antihero, more loudmouth adolescent.