Thursday, September 26, 2013

Georgette Heyer, my author addiction

The other day, I read a Guardian post about how readers sometimes become addicted to authors. Georgette Heyer was mentioned and I immediately realised I’d been an addict too. Heyer (1902-1974), an English author of over thirty Regency romances and as many historical novels and detective stories, has definitely been, not merely one of my favourite authors, but my addiction too.

The addiction built slowly. When I first discovered her books, I could only read books in my own language and just four or five of her Regency romances had been translated to it. I read them so many times I practically knew them by heart, but I didn’t consider myself addicted, or Heyer as a favourite author. Once I began reading books in English, I found a couple of more of her books, but that was all my local library had.

This was before Internet, I should mention, specifically before online bookstores. My addiction was unleashed after I discovered them, or – actually – after Amazon was founded. I became an Amazon customer solely in order to buy all Heyer’s Regency novels. Well, I meant to buy only one or two that sounded the best, but … well, addiction.

It took me a while to buy all of them. I was studying at the time and didn’t really have that much money. The books were out of print and were being issued anew so I had to wait for them to show up on Amazon catalogues. The books shipped from the US to Europe, an excruciating four to eight weeks wait for each book. And every single book was worth it.

I’ve tried to analyse many times what makes Heyer’s Regency romances so great. They have the spirit of Austen with more modern sentiments. Her heroines are more likely to go against the society’s dictates than in novels written in earlier times, but with such finesse that they dont feel analogous. Her heroes are dashing, often rogues who are redeemed during the course of the novel, but not solely. She has a couple of particularly delightful young heroes, like Freddy Standen in Cotillion (1953), who are good-natured and somewhat clueless. Equally, she has heroines who are silly and not always likeable. She regards all of them with an amused but beginning smile that allows the reader to smile understandingly with her and root even for the silliest of them.

Her books are full of historical details, too, that offer endless information without being dull. To this day, most of my knowledge about Regency England comes from her books – and I have a degree in English history. She made all the details in her books seem perfectly plausible and, what’s more important, alive – something most modern authors of Regency romances fail at.

I have my favourites among her books, those that I have read more often than others – and I’ve read them all more than once. They’re too numerous to bring up in detail here, however. There simply isn’t a weak book among them. Even the dullest, either The Toll-Gate (1954) or April Lady (1957), are good and worth reading again.

The book I’ve reread most often is perhaps Regency Buck (1935), a story of brother and sister who travel to London to force their reluctant guardian to bring them into society – a theme of many of her books. It has everything that is perfect in her Regency novels, a beautiful heroine, a dashing, slightly roguish hero, a lot of society nonsense and a mystery to boot.

Another great book is the aforementioned Cotillion, a delightful book I often read simply to feel good. Venetia (1958), The Grand Sophy (1950) and Devil’s Cub (1932) are among the top ten too, as are Arabella (1949), Lady of Quality (1972) and The Convenient Marriage (1934) – a book that has a heroine who stammers, only one example of many among Heyer’s heroines who aren’t utterly perfect and thereby lifeless.

My addiction subsided eventually. I had all the books that I wanted – I have never been interested in her detective stories – and had read them many times over. I haven’t stopped loving her books, though. She is still my go-to author, the one I pick up when I have nothing to read. It doesn’t matter which book I choose, or whether I read all of it or just parts, I’m guaranteed a wonderful time. I’m even considering buying all the books I already have as e-books. Partly because the Arrow imprints I bought in the 90s were such poor quality that the pages fell off after only one reading. Mostly, however, so that I would always have her books with me.

Do you have a favourite Heyer book, or hero or heroine? Please, share in comments.