False Colours - Georgette Heyer This is a quiet book: no romping and no hilarity, although the premise might’ve supported such excesses. In this tale of two identical twins, all the preconceptions are turned on their heads.
Kit, a diplomatic secretary in Vienna, is the rational younger twin to Evelyn, the impulsive and rakish Earl of Denville. Sensing through the twins’ bond that Evelyn is in trouble, Kit hurries home to England, but when he arrives in the middle of the night, he discovers that Evelyn has disappeared.
What is even worse, Evelyn offered a marriage of convenience to Cressy, the daughter of Lord Stavely, and tomorrow is the dinner party in Evelyn’s honor at his betrothed’s home. Evelyn needs this marriage to untangle the complicated financial knot his mother, the lovely and irresponsible Lady Denville, tied around her charming neck. If he doesn’t make a good impression on Cressy’s formidable grandma, the marriage might be off, and the financial imbroglio might plunge the entire family into the nightmare of Lady Denville’s debts.
To salvage the situation, Lady Denville persuades her younger son to impersonate his twin. For one dinner only, she pleads, and he reluctantly accedes to her entreaties. Unfortunately, this one dinner evolves into a prolonged house party at the Denville’s country seat, with Cressy and her grandma as the guests of honor.
Kit dislikes impersonating his twin immensely. He hates lying to Cressy even more because, as the young people spend time together, they irrevocably fall in love. He feels like a traitor: betraying Cressy as well as his twin, but what can he do? Several weeks later, Evelyn still hasn’t come home, and nobody knows what has become of him. Of only one thing Kit is certain: his twin is in no physical danger; he is alive and well. So Kit keeps the masquerade going, waits for his brother to show up, and hopes for the best.
Cressy, Evelyn’s betrothed, should’ve been the female lead in this novel, but she isn’t. She is practically transparent, a silhouette made of cellophane. Instead, another three-dimensional female protagonist arises, as the story progresses: the twins’ mother, Lady Denville.
Beautiful, flighty, and invariably optimistic, she loves her sons to distraction. She laughs easily; her irreverent escapades and fantastic ideas drive the plot forward. And while her skewed notions of economy might immerse even her beloved sons in despair, her sunny disposition illuminates the lives of everyone around her. She is one of the most colorful female portraits in Heyer’s fiction; so alive I wanted to wag my finger at her and admonish her not to be such a goose. You might like or dislike such women, but you probably know one or two like her: empty-headed, good-natured, and usually very good mothers.
Another picturesque personage in this novel is Lady Denville’s aged but loyal beau, Sir Bonamy. A grossly overweighed gourmand and hedonists, he is responsible for the majority of funny scenes in the novel. His love of food, combined with Heyer’s tendency to describe her characters’ meals in all their gastronomic splendor, resulted in such a comprehensive list of mouth-watering dishes that one could compile a full menu of a top-notch restaurant out of this novel.
The dialog is a bit convoluted though. When an explanation for some scatterbrained caper is required, and it often is in the involved charade the characters play, it takes people four or five pages to come to the point instead of a few sharp remarks it could’ve been.
But Heyer’s humor never betrays her, although in this novel, it is meek, hardly above a chuckle, only once or twice morphing into a soft laughter.
A delightful book, destined to lift even the grimmest of moods.