The Proposition by Madeleine Roux
Random House, Ballantine Dell
August 2, 2022
Review by Kate H.
The Proposition by Madeline Roux is set in the early 19th century in Sussex countryside, as well as London. It has a dastardly villain in Lord Boyle, who you will detest throughout the novel, especially for his ability to fool almost everyone. Clemency is the FMC and she is strong-headed, but a bit naive having grown up in the countryside. At the beginning of the novel, she is engaged to be married to Turner Boyle, despite having grown up under the influence of a treatise describing the cruelty and inequity of marriage. Not only did she save the treatise from the coals of a fire, but she turned to it throughout her youth as a source of both wisdom and comfort.
It is only through the arrival of Audric Ferrand at a local ball, and then serendipitously to the property next to her own, that she learns of Boyle’s duplicitousness and schemes. Like any good heroine, she does not trust Audric right away, but he is a dark, striking character who convinces her not only with his passion for remedying wrongs against women, but also by being absolutely right. Having a charming sister doesn’t hurt, a sister who has experienced the worst degradation at the hands of a man.
The way that Clemency and Audric both resist each other and are drawn to one another is everything I wanted. Their respective sisters also aid in that build-up through conversations and letters. But a lot of the interstitial writing really gummed up the flow of the plot. In fact, at one moment I was reading a description and wondered “is this level of detail necessary, or is it artificially trying to delay the plot?” The fact that I pulled my head out of the narrative to ask that might be its own answer. I still enjoyed this novel, but I wish it had been tighter in places.
There were two aspects of the novel that might require a suspension of disbelief. One is that Clemency fell for Turner Boyle at all, being so set against marriage. I think this can be explained away by both her family’s financial straits and also that her convictions against marriage were youthful and not really tested at all by experience with charming men. The other is Audric’s personal conviction that Clemency must be accepting of multiple sexualities. Interestingly, and without giving spoilers, there are gay, bisexual, and lesbian characters. Luckily for the trajectory of the novel, Audric realizes a country bumpkin like Clemency is mainly ignorant and not malicious, and seeks to educate her in a very unusual manner before he writes her off.