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THE YEAR IS 1786 and Elizabeth ‘Lizzy’ Ward, the protagonist of Joanna Taylor’s novel Masquerade, is a young woman struggling to make her way in Georgian London, a city that’s ruled by money, power and position. Forced to walk the streets of Piccadilly, selling her body to make ends meet, Lizzy dreams of a better life.

Closing my eyes, I settle myself to calmness. I draw a picture of a new life into my head. One that is free of debt collectors and false suitors. I see myself well-fed, in fine clothes, with my own independence and maybe even a man to treat me kindly.

9780349407289 (1)While fellow ‘tart with a heart’ and friend Kitty loses herself in the gin sold in the local shop, Lizzy still holds onto the fairy tale. And when she spies an extremely handsome aristocrat, struggling to control the thoroughbred he’s riding through the ‘noisy mayehem of Shaftesbury Avenue’, she goes to his aid. Thus, begins a new adventure in which Lizzy finds herself accepting 50 guineas, a King’s ransom, from Edward, Lord Hays, to masquerade as a lady for seven days. With the help of Mrs Tomlinson, Edward’s housekeeper, and Sophie, the maid, Lizzy is transformed into a suitable companion for Edward and so the fairy tale really begins as she is accepted into the homes and ballrooms of the London elite.

Masquerade is a surprisingly good book – certainly, one that we didn’t expect to like as much as we do, partly because from the cover – and perhaps sadly, we do judge books by their covers – we thought that it was going to be a rather slight, semi-erotic novel. And it’s not. That said, there’s nothing wrong with good erotica.

What the book is, in fact, is it’s clever. Clever in the way that Amy Heckerling’s excellent film Clueless (1995), and so many other successful pastiches of popular books or movies, are. In this case, Masquerade transposes the plot of cult film Pretty Woman (1990) – itself drawing heavily on Pygmalion (1913) and My Fair Lady (1964) – to the streets and drawing rooms of late 18th-century England. This, in itself, would be entertaining, but it is given further substance by the authentic historical background and detail with which the novel is imbued. The author successfully evokes Georgian London – the grimy streets, noisy markets and the horror of the gin shops of Piccadilly, contrasting it all with the opulence and grandeur of Mayfair, where Edward and his peers live.

Although Lizzy is initially overwhelmed by Edward’s lifestyle, she quickly realises all is not what it seems and that everyone she meets is, in fact, participating in an elaborate masquerade, masking who they really are and what they feel. She is particularly shocked to discover that Edward and his peers are just as much prisoners of their circumstances as she is and that Edward considers himself a commodity to be bargained in exchange for a suitable marriage.

You sound like a courtesan,’ she accuses him. And when he questions the difference between himself and a woman who sells her company, Lizzy informs him with great dignity that she doesn’t sell her ‘soul’.

And that is what makes Lizzy an interesting protagonist. She has substance. She’s intelligent and surprising eloquent for someone of her class and upbringing, can read and is familiar with Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and yet she can also sooth an irritable horse, help deliver a breached calf and can converse on the political issues of the time, such as slavery and the colonies. Lizzy is a feminist in many ways and she truly believes that despite her present circumstances, she can create and own her destiny. Her greatest wish is to be free – rather like the caged birds that she buys from her favourite stallholder in the market, only to set free.

It would be a shame if this book doesn’t do well. It deserves to: it is very enjoyable. It’s also a deceptively easy read and yet also has a surprising amount of content. It may, however, possibly be misrepresented by its cover, which, although admittedly attractive, does suggest in its colour and design that it’s erotica, when it’s very much not.

Instead, Masquerade is a rather sweet, quite old-fashioned love story, in many ways – Pretty Woman meshed with Cinderella, set in Georgian England.

And really, what’s not to enjoy about that?

 

Masquerade by Joanna Taylor | Published by Piatkus (6 August 2015) |  Paperback Original | £7.99.

 

Many thanks to Clara Diaz at Little, Brown, for including The Literary Shed in Masquerade‘s Blog Tour. Please do read the other reviews on the tour, detailed below.

Masquerade poster

 

 

 

Image and text credits: Images courtesy of Clara Diaz at Little, Brown. Quotation text: Copyright © 2015 by Joanna Taylor, pages 12–13; 126.

 

Also of interest: ‘”Homeward bound” – Nora Roberts’ The Liar’;The beauty of Sara Taylor’s The Shore‘; ‘Kate Perry’s Give a Little – Beatrice in love‘; ‘Mary Balogh’s The Escape – finding a haven in a heartless world

Recent The Literary Lounge articles: ‘Meet Kate Perry – Literary It Girl or ‘Demented Victorian‘; ‘Pinterest – “inspiration snacking” or something more?’

 

Notice: Please note the images and quoted text in this article are used for promotional purposes only (see above).

 

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