|A Love Affair for Lizzie is a charming story with one major flaw: the wrong man gets the girl. So wrong, in fact, that I closed the book with a feeling of disbelief. Two hundred fifty pages of lighthearted Regency story and it ends like this? Warning: this review might contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
Lizzie Lancaster has loved Matthew Webster since childhood, and when she is fifteen, Matthew heads off to war with an unspoken agreement between them. Three years later, Matthew’s letters have become less and less frequent. Lizzie puts this down to his new responsibilities as an aide to Wellington, now stationed in Vienna for the Congress. Then comes the shocker: a letter from Matthew informing Lizzie that he is engaged, to a paragon of femininity named Miss Teresa Blackwell.
Lizzie wastes no time being heartbroken. Instead, she enlists the help of Lady Thalia Stanhope, a neighbor, who agrees to take Lizzie to Paris and help her acquire some polish and sophistication. Then, Lizzie reasons, she will be able to win Matthew back. Along the way, the ladies make the acquaintance of two men – Mr. Daniel Thoreau, an American, and Mr. Gregory Mansfield, a cheerful young Englishman. The two men accompany the ladies to Paris, where Lizzie soon finds herself swept up in a social whirl and hardly thinking about Matthew, until the evening when she comes face-to-face with Teresa Blackwell.
Teresa is a flirtatious minx, hardly pining for her absent fiancé. Lizzie is repelled. This is the woman Matthew chose? As Lizzie tries to sort out her feelings, it is Daniel Thoreau who provides steady companionship, amusing outings, and a shoulder to lean on as he urges her to examine her heart.
The party eventually heads to Vienna, where the Congress is in full swing. Here Lizzie finds Matthew again. But now that Matthew rediscovers Lizzie, whom will Lizzie choose?
It’s the wrong man, that’s for sure. Matthew, who spends most of the book either out of the picture or chiding Lizzie on her behavior, is boorish, callow, and completely uninteresting. The fact that he’s been blinded by Teresa’s beauty and can’t see her true nature makes one suspect his intelligence, and he does nothing to redeem himself with his treatment of Lizzie.
Lizzie makes some interesting growth during the course of the book, only to have it all discounted by her ridiculous choice at the end of the book. When the chips are down, she really isn’t willing to step into her new self at all. What a disappointment. And Daniel Thoreau is as gentlemanly, mature, and interesting as a hero could wish. The ending felt as false as the rest of the story had felt plausible. The only word that came to mind was “pap”.
The secondary characters keep the plot moving and Lizzie growing. There’s George Andronikos, a handsome young Greek; the French Captain LaSalle; and various historical figures sprinkled throughout. Lizzie spends much of her time defending her choice of suitors to Matthew, who carps and snipes about them ad nauseum. I kept wishing Lizzie would tire of this petulant whiner and just send him packing, but no such luck. This didn’t make Lizzie appear any smarter than Matthew, ultimately. In Lizzie’s world, if you fall in love at fifteen it leaves no room to change your mind later, even after you supposedly grow up. I can’t imagine many readers relating to that line of thinking.
One odd aspect of the book is the author’s penchant to stop dead and insert a one-paragraph history lesson, such as the fact that Talleyrand was a gourmet and had a notorious chef. This felt a bit forced and certainly jarring at points. While interesting, it didn’t add to the story.
And the story was intriguing, for the most part. The ending aside, A Love Affair for Lizzie has a lot going for it. As a story of growth and self-discovery, set amid Paris, Vienna, and Brussels, it is lighthearted and fresh. If only the last two chapters had been left off, it might well have been a recommended read. As it is, readers are more likely to close the book with a snarl of frustration.