This was the piano as she hadn’t even known it could be played – subdued passion that she was fairly sure wouldn’t be allowed in public. One melody tripped lightly ahead of the other, follow me. The second was slow; it would never catch the first but ran under it, as deep as an ocean.
She had never heard anything so beautiful.
There is also subtlety and cryptic phraseology from time to time. There are multiple and carefully woven plot threads. A little here, a little there. I felt, for most of the book, like I was playing a particularly elaborate game of cat’s cradle – it had the potential to be anywhere on the scale from a beautiful and magnificent creation to a crazy tangled mess.
It isn’t a book you can judge until you finish it. Until you see the creation at the end, what you have made with your fingers of the threads interwoven through the story, it is unformed and hard to interpret.
In thinking about this book, I decided that I mostly got the subtlety (something I sometimes struggle with) – for example, I immediately understood what Kit’s brother Tom meant when he said “I had such hopes”. But the scene between Darlington and Kit in the pub playing cards and discussing apples was lost on me. Sometimes (and this is an embarrassing confession) I try and see something in a shop window more closely and end up smacking my head on the window glass. I felt a little like that with the apple scene. I tried to peer and hit my head (metaphorically). Darlington had me “hitting my head” a few times actually, as gradually the many layers of him were peeled back, as his tortured backstory was slowly parsed out.
And, it is only at the end, one can decide just how enjoyable the experience was.
‘Please allow me,’ said the Duke. ‘Reading the Times is like having a conversation with an old, slightly senile acquaintance. I am always charmed to begin, which admirable sentiment is followed by a strong desire to hurry the conversation along, and before the end I find myself fighting the temptation to do something mad and wicked.’
He stood with a swish and leant gracefully down over Tom’s shoulder. ‘I always lose,’ he said, low and full of laughter. ‘I make a point of it.’
He finished the beer in his glass and looked, all disapproving entitlement, at the empty bottom.
‘Katherine,’ he said. ‘Please explain these coins to me again. The smallest one, what’s that called?’
‘You should write a travel guide when you return to London,’ she said, picking out the right number of coins from the pile in his hand.
‘What a marvellous, delightful idea! I will be able to explain about farthings and pence and – what’s this one?’
‘That’s a button.’
He looked blank for a moment. Then, ‘I have never heard of this button,’ he said, outraged. ‘Is it a currency the working poor are keeping to themselves? How much is a button worth?’
‘Buh-ton,’ she said. ‘You know – that pesky little device you deal with twice a day, at least . . .’ She trailed off, realising that of course he didn’t deal with buttons. His valet likely did that for him. Fingers against the Duke’s skin for a moment every morning and night. ‘Er,’ she said, ‘never mind.’
There is also a beautiful and redemptive story involving Kat’s sister Lydia and her husband Lord BenRuin. I’d have happily read more about them, but even so, I didn’t find their story incomplete. My liking for this part of the story kind of surprised me because the Duke of Darlington has such a presence on the page that he tends to overshadow anyone else. Yet, these two caught and held my attention even against such temptation. The other secondary characters were generally nuanced and not superficial.
In terms of the romance between Kat and Darlington I sometimes felt either that that the author knew things that I didn’t know (and therefore had not felt the need to be more explicit on the page) or that I had not grasped entirely what I was supposed to grasp (ie, it was there, but I missed it). There were parts of tender beauty and delicious angst. But there was perhaps one of the threads which held it all together I can’t help but think I lost somewhere along the way leaving me with a vague sense of incompleteness. I would have liked the second sex scene to have been a bit longer as I felt there was an important point which was kind of glossed over.
For all of Darlington’s many manipulations, I did absolutely believe in his love for Kit,
But more than that, it was how it had to be. If she was here, then he would be here beside her.