Thursday, June 21, 2012

High Society

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindle is a wonderful, witty farce that could well lead your teen to Jane Austen. If he or she already knows Jane Austen, then they will appreciate Patrice Kindl’s understanding of the issues at stake for young British men and women at that time. The book is funny and smart and offers teens a way of thinking about how society is set up and the values its members place on things like beauty, intelligence, gender, wealth and a family’s position.

Althea Crawley, as the young woman who’s uniquely placed to keep her family’s castle by marrying a wealthy man, has to consider sacrificing her own happiness for the sake of preserving her family’s lifestyle—and indeed their very survival. This is complicated by the fact that she cannot keep herself from saying what she truly thinks. She scares off one suitor after another.

Many British books and films revolve around class. What you’re born into, and how you get around that. The most humorous scenes in the book arise from the angst of trying to serve food for everyone who comes to Crawley Castle to pay a social call. The people who kindly decline sugar for their tea, because they know the family has very little money and can’t afford such luxuries. Then to come across Mr. Fredericks, who has no finesse at all, who critiques Althea’s family holdings--and who brings Althea to a rude awakening when she realizes how long her family has been low on cash. Mr. Fredericks’ observations about the tapestries and portrait frames reveal to Althea that her father was slowly selling off their valuables to keep the castle even while he was alive.

Mr. Fredericks and his mother are the most like Americans. Practical, hardworking folks in a world in which other people coasted on title and inherited wealth. Althea is in her own way hardworking, certainly resourceful, and has much to recommend her. With character names such as Lord Boring, Prudence and Charity, Kindl telegraphs the depth (or lack of depth) of each. One of the great pleasures of the novel for readers will be knowing who the right match is for Althea before she does.

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