So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Forever Amber. Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber covers 10 years in the life of Amber St. Clare in Restoration England beginning in 1660 when she was 16 and ran away from the farm to go to London. The monarchy had just been restored, and the Royalists were returning to England.

Bruce Carlton is a returning lord whose family had lost everything during the Cromwell period. He is on his way to London when he stops in Amber's village for the night. For Amber, it is love at first sight and she begs him to take her with him. However, to Bruce, Amber is "a woman any man would like to have for a mistress, but not for a wife." She is beautiful, desirable, and sensual. Yet she is also vain, unscrupulous, wanton, and ambitious.

Sleeping her way to fame and fortune, Amber is not a likable heroine. As a character, her devotion to Bruce is her saving grace. Yet she is a woman who loves too much an unattainable man. So even her undying love doesn't redeem her.

What finally makes this novel work is the history. Kathleen Winsor does an excellent job of portraying the turbulence of Restoration England. She superbly portrays the intrigues of King Charles II and his court, the upheaval of British life caused by reformation and restoration, and London consumed first by plague and then by the Great Fire.

The prior Puritanical period was swept aside by a royal court of relaxed sexual morals into which Amber fit particularly well. Forever Amber, while banned in Boston when it was published in the 1940s for its portrayal of the loose morals of the court, actually contains no descriptions of sexual intimacy. Dozens of times the author makes it clear that something happened without ever describing it. Depending on the reader this can be a strength or a weakness of the book.


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