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The Toll Gate - Georgette Heyer Book Club 20

(43 Posts)
HorryIsUpduffed Thu 21-Mar-13 21:13:46

I love this. I think it is the first book that successfully combines a mystery with a romance - possibly because neither is particularly complicated so the total amount of plot is proportionate to the length of the book. I love the love story; I enjoy the minor characters; I like the resolution of the mystery at the end.

And I like the Heyer of it.

For example, in contrast to the typical descriptions of heroes by conventional standards, we get:

A big race, the Staples. [The Earl] was himself a tall man, but narrow-shouldered, and inclined to stoop. John, of course, was a giant. [...] Lady Caroline could only be described as massive.

And when John's mother and sister are discussing him, which happens in how many Heyers?! we get:

"I think he is odiously provoking, ma'am!"
"Very true, my dear: all men are odiously provoking."

It's hard not to love John. He is a typical Heyer hero, self-confident but witty and kind, and fun.

"Lord, has Bow St been asking questions about me at Horse Guards? I shall never hear the end of it!"
"I don't know about that, but by what I can make out, nothing you done wouldn't surprise the gentleman which supplied the information," said Stogumber dryly.

When Babs appears later on he backs up this view of "Crazy Jack", being stoically unsurprised by the barmy decisions and privations with which he is obliged to go along.

He obeys the summons to honour his betrothal, yet commenting that it is not how he would do it - and he will be proved right!

But John has a darker side. He strangles Coate and is open with his friends about having done so. "Yes, I killed Coate, and without compunction." Everyone knows he did it but it was so ... right that nobody speaks against him.

Nell, too, is a typical heroine. She is capable and independent, yet constrained by her position, society in general, and her desperate desire to feel small and protected - which only John can manage, and does so naturally and effortlessly. She has been the de facto squire for so long.

Their romance is not typical. John "received his leveller at last" as soon as he sets eyes on her, and she is scarcely slower. Their love declaration comes in the first half and suffers no dwindling or argument.

Ben is fun. Heyer does good boys. His fear is realistic; his reassurance no less so. There is a nice bit where he enumerates every single strange vehicle to pass the gate in the last year to refute that it is dull and provincial grin

He is intrepid, like a small boy, and enjoys silly things like taking off John's boots, like a little boy.

He is terrified of The Parish, and rightly so. We hear passing mentions of the Sheffield foundries and coal pits. This contrasts strongly with Nell's upbringing, with real parents (for a while), siblings, grandfather, money, and devoted servants as replacement parents. We rejoice when Chirk and Rose decide to adopt him because we know that he will be happy, and we have been reminded about his alternatives.

It is a shame that the major dustup happens off stage. I think it would have been hard to write, but it keeps the vast majority of the book from John's perspective. We know more of Nell than that would suggest, but it could have been a little more balanced.

Moral questions are interesting here - Chirk saves Stogumber and gets the reward in return even though Stogumber guesses what he is. Their interaction is glorious in general. But Chirk again kills unapologetically - Henry, for John, in exchange for the reward which changes his life.

I love that Sir Peter sends for a special licence, not a will change. Fantastic management.

Now, I gather that some of you were not looking forward to this. I'd love to hear your justification... grin

MadameDefarge Thu 11-Apr-13 00:23:18

Yes. I think there are moments of real emotional resonance which is often missing in the (undoubtably fabulous) other ones.

HorryIsUpduffed Thu 11-Apr-13 12:01:44

We talked several books ago about books we liked when we were younger, and books we like now. I think this is quite a grownup one, maybe. Certainly it has more adult/grim themes and far fewer light moments.

Nell and John are very grownup about their courtship - they don't play games, there's no coquetry or false chivalry, and it is about mutual support and lifelong companionship, rather than immediate satisfaction and burning passion.

The society scenes are young people's scenes - the Marriage Mart is mostly girls under 21, perhaps 25 at a push, and men generally under thirty. Nell and John are too old sensible for that rabble.

MadameDefarge Thu 11-Apr-13 18:59:44

ohndear getting Bath Tangle mixed up with Black sheep.

deleted203 Thu 11-Apr-13 19:25:31

I love this one! This is probably my very favourite of Heyer's books, probably because of the reasons many don't like it as much.

I love the mystery, the excitement and the murder. I like the thrill of the adventure story - the other one that springs to mind as similar is 'The Reluctant Widow', which I also enjoyed.

I really enjoyed the adult relationship between John and Nell. I much prefer a heroine who is not an innocent, protected, unworldly young teen. Nell is strong and resolute and brave and sensible, which I enjoyed. Some of Heyer's heroines (The Convenient Marriage and April Lady spring to mind) are really so immature and silly because of their extreme youth that I find them irritating. Nell and John have a much more equal relationship than those where the hero is an adult, worldly man in his mid 30s and the heroine is a dewy eyed, naïve, sheltered 18 year old.

John is fabulous - I could see myself falling for someone that strong and with such a sense of the ridiculous. There is something rather magnificent about knowing he would sort out any worries or troubles the woman in his life had. Rather like 'Ajax' he is a man to be relied upon as a rock in times of trouble.

I love the odd relationship between the highwayman and the sensible, respectable ladies maid. What a fabulous thing to have thought of. I particularly love Chirk's lack of squeamishness and grim practicality. It would be far better for John if someone killed Nell's unpleasant, crooked relation - so he simply does so.

I enjoyed the introduction of Babs and his horror at the conditions John is living in. The idea of a fastidious sort of the ton having to live as ordinary folks do (and not enjoying it in the slightest) is rather lovely. I also liked his solid loyalty, even when he was loathing being put upon in this way.

All in all definitely a great read, and one I've returned to many times over the years.

thewhistler Thu 11-Apr-13 19:33:38


What a great post. You made me love it again.

I enjoy Babs' discomfiture too, bit the knowledge that they were both soldiers in worse conditions is also somehow touching. More that the fit Corinthians who boxed with Cribb ( whose pub I too went past last week).

Thinking of our orgeat discussions, was in a Venezuelan restaurant on Sunday where they do

"Almond (orgeat) milkshakes".

So the fashion may have come from the peninsula wars.

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 11-Apr-13 22:04:55

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

thewhistler Fri 19-Apr-13 20:02:59

Knock knock, anyone there? Isn't it time we started the next? Who is up for doing it? I don't much enjoy the Bath ones and anyway only give v short intros, not like the academic ones that spur us to our most analytical modes.

BTW, went to an exhibition last weekend where there was a Pugin chalice based on a cellini design, which had been made for Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, who you will recall " cleaned " Sophie's earrings. Was thrilled and passed to DSis who was as pleased as I was.

HorryIsUpduffed Fri 19-Apr-13 20:55:34

I started this one; it ain't my turn grin

nkf Fri 19-Apr-13 21:00:20

I like the fact that Nell is a big girl. Nothing dainty and cute about her. It's a romance for all the awkward, clumsy girls around. Me, me, me.

mackerella Sat 20-Apr-13 11:09:05

I could have a go at starting a Bath Tangle thread (although it's really not one of my favourites) if absolutely nobody else wants to.

MrsFrederickWentworth Sat 20-Apr-13 14:39:30

oooh, yes please, to get us started.

have nc'd to one of my favourite romantic heroines, (though I never really understood what she saw in him), not a Heyer alas as everyone has taken my favourites

HorryIsUpduffed Sat 20-Apr-13 14:48:29

MrsW - did you see him played by Rupert Penry-Jones? I totally got it then grin

mackerella Sat 20-Apr-13 15:27:05

OK, I have started a new thread about Bath Tangle here - it's a bit long as I got carried away by my annoyance at this novel blush.

LeonieDeSainteVire Sat 20-Apr-13 18:50:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

mackerella Sat 20-Apr-13 19:23:30

Ooh, who are you, MrsFW? I must admit that I've got a couple of Heyer-inspired names in reserve (waiting until we do the relevant books), but wasn't able to get the ones that I wanted because they were already taken!

HorryIsUpduffed Sat 20-Apr-13 20:23:11

Names in reserve? shock grin What cheek.

Yes I'm still sitting on HoratiaWinwood and HorryDrelincourt. Should I sit on LadyRule just in case...? grin

mackerella Sat 20-Apr-13 20:52:22

You're obviously a bit more single-minded than me in your choice of names, Horry! As for mine, wait until we do Frederica and The Nonesuch and then you'll see...

Offering to sit on Lady Rule sounds rather rude grin

MrsFrederickWentworth Sun 21-Apr-13 17:57:11

Yes, I agree about R P-J.

My husband would have disapproved of my activity as neither women nor sailors should do it, unless for wind in the latter case.

Sounds like registering trade marks.

Now I would like to have been married to Freddie's father..perhaps I should bag that.

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