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Bordeaux Red (The Blakeney papers) by C Guy…
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Bordeaux Red (The Blakeney papers)

by C Guy Clayton

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In the interest of fairness, I bought the remaining two sequels to the Blakeney Papers trilogy by C. Guy Clayton, after loathing the first in the series like a true Scarlet Pimpernel fan. Only then I found myself amused by the second novel, Such Mighty Rage, and hoped that the third might be equally entertaining. No such luck. Bordeaux Red plummeted back down to the bawdy depths of Daughter of the Revolution, and Marie-Marguerite-Armand lost any shred of credibility or sympathy gained in her previous escapade.

Even though I understand Clayton's gimmick - a sort of picaresque novel a la Candide as narrated by Cleland's Fanny Hill - I'm afraid I failed once again to get the joke. Why Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel? Does Clayton love her heroine, Marguerite St. Just/Blakeney, and wish to redress the balance, or hate everything about the character? His sarcastic, unloveable twist on Lady Blakeney is darker, and more active, but far from admirable. The author bangs on about Marguerite refusing to be a 'good girl' and 'wait patiently at home' for the 'bold, brave Scarlet Pimpernel', but instead his anti-heroine is an unlikeable, unreliable, borderline sociopath, who blunders into key historical moments, only to get herself locked up or knocked out (or stripped naked, which seems to happen to her a lot).

Clayton clutters the text with footnotes and endnotes, contradicting his own heroine's recollection of events, in what I presume to be a dig at Orczy's lack of continuity and biased historical research. Marguerite is definitely an unreliable narrator, protesting (too much and too often) that she is not a whore (oh, yes she is), and muddling dates and places with a republican slant in a reversal of the original source material. (But that doesn't quite cover the author's error of referring to 'Lady Marguerite Blakeney', or promoting Sir Percy to the aristocracy.) Book three also deviates completely from events in the Scarlet Pimpernel sequels, which leads to a pointless slog through revolutionary France, while Marguerite is 'press-ganged, nearly flogged, shipwrecked, imprisoned, stripped, suffers a miscarriage, and gets caught up in the Vendee'. Which is all very dramatic, but I prefer Orczy's more subtle characterisation, not James Bond in a dress (or breeches).

I did like Percy in these novels, even though his humanitarian motives for rescuing French men and women from the guillotine have been downgraded to mercenary self-interest. He remains unflappable and quintessentially British, with little patience for the antics of his hotheaded wife ('Where another husband would have sworn at me or even struck me, Percy just called me madame'). In fact, I feel sorry for him, being married to such a stuck-up, self-involved egotistical slapper ('But then I would never have met Therezia Cabarrus, Citizen Robespierre would have avoided being overthrown the following Thermidor, Buonaparte would not even have reached the rank of colonel, and - oh, the entire history of the world would have been different').

So, if you want to read about a female Flashman, or hated The Scarlet Pimpernel, then scour the second hand shops and try Clayton's trilogy for yourself (I'm so glad that he stopped at three novels!) But if you love Sir Percy and Marguerite for who they are and what they do, then beware - Clayton is the anti-Orczy! ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jun 20, 2012 |
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