After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy—or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes.
As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago.
During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings—or betraying his brother? (x)
I felt so keenly for Beryl and her struggle with depression. I think we’ve all felt at least a touch of it after experiencing the last year. I was grateful that Matthews never let it be said that it is curable or even that it is a failing in a person. As Mark repeatedly tells her, she is not broken because of it, and he loves her for everything she is, “the dark and the light” (161).
Henry isn’t a villain, per se. At times, however, he can be a woman’s nightmare. He is controlling, manipulative, and dismissive of other’s concerns. If he thought Beryl would do better in an asylum (or worse), I think he would ultimately send her to one. I don’t think he would pull a Mr. Rochester, but it would be an unkind act just the same. He is kind in the end, but the thought of Beryl being married to him made my blood run cold. He would have to undergo a great change in order to be the hero of his own novel. He’s a good leader when it comes to his tenants, but he would not be a good husband. Not yet at least.
Mark is, of course, in many ways his opposite. He is kind, thoughtful, and tenderhearted. They have both taken to their respective roles well and with the necessary responsibility. The difference is that one has allowed his emotions to be run to the ground, while the other has tried to cope with them. There’s a tension between them that all but goes away completely by the end, when they come to a certain agreement. I appreciated that Matthews didn’t leave things strained between them.
Although this is a bit spoilery—but not really—I wanted to share it because it touched me so deeply:
“Apparently, it’s the imperfections—the impurities—that give a beryl its color.”
Her gaze met his.
“All the beauty you see before you is on account of the flaws. Were it perfect, it would have no color at all. No value, certainly not to me.” He took the ring from its box. “I prefer this one. It matches your eyes.” (181)
I swear, if she didn’t marry that man, I would.
After reading this novel, I want very much to move to a small English village, where the vicar pays calls on his parishioners and there are village fetes held for charity. Maybe it’s just the pandemic talking, but that sounds absolutely lovely.
I can’t say I recommend anything Matthews writes—but that’s only because I have yet to read everything she’s written. That will be remedied in due time, however. She is quite spectacular.