Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-233501-2
Historical Romance, 2015
I really don’t want to give Diary of an Accidental Wallflower this low a score, as it is a very readable story with some pleasant romantic comedy moments, but ultimately, its take home message requires such a huge suspension of disbelief that I may as well lift myself all the way to Mercury. This review contains some major spoilers, by the way, since mentioning them while hiding them in spoiler bars is a rather pointless move as these bars would then be everywhere. So, go back if you don’t want to get spoiled.
Claire Westmore always believes that she will marry Mr Charles Alban, the handsome heir to the Duke of Harrington. And why not? She’s gorgeous, he’s gorgeous, and they’d be the toast of the town. Unfortunately, a silly attempt to hide when he happens to be passing by while she is in an old dress ends up with her ankle getting twisted pretty badly. Her “best friend” hones in on Mr Alban while poor Claire has to stand by the sidelines in the ballroom, and the poor dear is soon feeling most unhappy. Fortunately, Dr Daniel Merial, the doctor with a tongue-twister name who spots her twisted ankle and offers to take a look at it, is cute. He’s really cute. Every lady from married women to even his landlady wants a piece of him, when all the poor man wants is to be left alone to conduct his medical experiments and get recognized as an accomplished medical expert by his peers in London. Well, he soon finds himself attracted to Claire just as she he, but oh, can a mere doctor and a noble lady ever be happy together?
As I’ve mentioned, the humorous elements are entertaining. The author even has two brats here – Claire’s siblings – that are actually amusing instead of obnoxious, although I still feel that the author has added three years to both Claire’s and Lucy’s age when these two often act far younger than their age would suggest, especially Lucy who is more 14 than 17. The author injects some more “heavy” moments involving Claire playing Lindsay Lohan’s role in her very own Mean Girls, and to an extent they work pretty well too where I am concerned.
However, the take home message of the entire story is… well, let’s just say that it’s probably a bigger deal breaker for readers who care about some degree of historical context or authenticity, even more than it is for me. Basically, Claire gives everything the finger to be Daniel’s wife. The fact that she is suddenly elevated to be a nobleman’s illegitimate relative is supposed to be protection enough from any social implications. It is nice that she is not ashamed or concerned about what anyone thinks, and it’s not selfish of her to do this when her sister is about to make her own debut in society, because Lucy doesn’t want to get married ever, so that’s okay. Seriously – this is the best kind of take home message the author can come up with? What is this, a romance novel for Tumblr princesses?
It’s also bizarre how the author has Claire’s mother being miserably unhappy because she tried to elope with the man she loved, only that man died and she was stuck with her current husband while carrying Claire, the dead dude’s daughter. How was her decision to marry for love different from Claire’s when it comes to potential repercussions? Well, I guess at least Daniel didn’t stick it in her when Claire wanted it bad, so nobody dies after knocking up other people, which makes Claire’s decision somehow better than her mother’s? Why even include the mother’s unhappy story arc? I assume at first that it was to create some kind of parallel to Claire’s own story arc, but she ends up doing what her mother did anyway – following her heart when it comes to love – and so I am now confused as to what the author is trying to do here.
Also, this is another story where the author sets her tale in a certain time period only to express her disapproval at various practices of that setting. For example, Daniel nags at Claire and another patient for wearing corsets. Yes, corsets are bad, but unless there are still some readers out there who read this book while being laced up in tight corsets – maybe some old dames who are part of some ancient European royal family? – the author is preaching to the choir. So what’s the point? Same with Daniel urging Claire to eat when she is trying to stay slim for the Season – this is another one of those moments where romance authors tell their readers that it is okay to eat ten more portions of that chocolate cake because fictitious romance heroes approve of such behavior. Hopefully the wedding to this non-existent guy arrives before the diabetes.
The problem here is the context. Claire is the eldest daughter in a family where the mother is a drunk and the father neglects his family to play with his illegitimate daughter. Lucy is out of control as a tomboy hoyden who refuses to listen to anyone, and Geoffrey is a 13-year old boy floundering without his father to guide him on coping with puberty. All things considered. it makes sense for Claire to marry a wealthy and powerful man – this gives her and her siblings some semblance of security that their parents couldn’t provide. And yet, Daniel wants her to go against social conventions, ignore fashion, and eat until her clothes can’t fit anymore. Can you imagine what will happen if she does what he wants her to? She’d be married to a doctor who rents a cramped apartment, her siblings’ future up in the air… wait, that’s what she did. Don’t worry, she’s the bastard cousin of the heir of a Duke – the very same man everyone knows she is trying to marry (yes, Mr Alban is her uncle because her mother got knocked up by Mr Alban’s brother) – nobody would sneer or ostracize the family, so everyone is happy and in love and that’s all that really matters! Yeah!
Like I said, the whole thing reads like some immature philosophizing of some kid on Tumblr who has never experienced real life but thinks she knows the solutions to all the world’s many ills.
There is also a bit of a double standard here. Daniel has no problems giving up everything to move to London so that he can convince his peers that he is not some country bumpkin and get them to accept him – and yet, Claire wanting to conform and be someone Daniel believes she isn’t is not a good thing. Hmm.
Also, Daniel is a lousy doctor. Telling patients they can’t do something is the worst thing a doctor can do if he wants these patients to comply. Take it from someone who’s been there and done that – if you want patients to make lifestyle changes (which are very hard, nearly impossible for some people), you don’t tell them no, don’t do that. Because those patients would just tune you out and go back to eating and doing whatever they used to do after they have flushed their medication down the toilet. As a doctor, you should offer solutions to replace those habits that you want your patients to unlearn. Here, Daniel’s patients ignore him (big surprise) and he ends up actually enabling the very bad behaviors that are doing them in. The fact that Daniel is a horrible doctor with terrible people skills makes his marriage to Claire seem even more like a disaster waiting to happen. What happens when the ensuing scandal causes him to lose his few clients and his standing, leaving him with little means to support Claire? I guess maybe Mr Alban will open up his bank vault and invite them to take all they want.
Anyway, Diary of an Accidental Wallflower is not a story that can hold up to scrutiny. Yes, even more so compared to the author’s previous “history as I make it” books. You really have to work at not thinking too hard in order to enjoy it. I couldn’t do it, but if you want to step up to the challenge, be my guest. Try imbibing some alcohol first.