18th Jan 2012
The Bodice Ripper: Before the Storm by Melanie Clegg
The advantages of writing a column over a review is that I feel less pressure to be dispassionate, so rather than getting a straightforward critique of Melanie Clegg’s hot-off-the-press, so-spanking-new-it-was-only-released-yesterday novel Before the Storm, you’re getting my application to join the Melanie Clegg Fan Club.
I first became aware of Melanie through her blog Madame Guillotine, which is a distillation of her obsessions with the French Revolution, Jack the Ripper (she is descended from one of the investigating policeman) and gin. So really, the chances that I wouldn’t snap up her fictional efforts were extremely thin.
Before the Storm, inspired by Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, tells the story of a group of young Englishwomen who meet in Bath and, frustrated by their inability to land a suitable British husband, go to Paris to try their luck with the French nobility.
Given that the French Revolution looms, you can’t help thinking their timing is a bit off. Described by the author as “a tale of iniquity and posh doom”, it contains all the staples of good historical romance, from upwardly mobile marriage-minded Mamas to a governess with a secret past.
However, like her previous novel, Blood Sisters, it is a book more about the bonds between the women than it is a love story. The real love story is between Clegg and Revolutionary France, and she matches historical detail with a vivid imagination.
Clegg is self-published, which was a first for me. Previously I hadn’t even considered reading a self-published novel and, whilst this experience hasn’t shaken me free of all of my prejudices, I can say with confidence that I’d read her work if it was self-published, traditionally-published or written on the back of a gin bottle. OK, especially if it was written on the back of a gin bottle.
Is it patronising to say that most of the time you wouldn’t be able to tell? Possibly, but it’s also true. There are very occasional punctuation errors, but even in conventionally published books, typesetting errors occur. And did I notice them because, on a subconscious level, I was looking for them?
Either way, one or two misplaced commas aren’t likely to jolt you out of a novel as enjoyable as Before the Storm. And honestly, I’m only including this because otherwise this entire column would be gushing praise, and I’m not that sort of girl.
Clegg’s books are e-book only, which was a driving force in my decision to request a Kindle for Christmas. This is a shame, because it means I can only see the gorgeous covers in black and white.
Lisa Falzon’s artwork somehow combines lush, dreamy historical detail with a slightly punk rock aesthetic, summing up Clegg’s style. The first ten to order a copy get a free print of the cover, so get in fast whilst you still can…