Kate, in dire circumstances, is surprised to receive an invitation to live with a distant aunt. Her aunt, uncle, and cousin welcome her to their estate, buy her new clothes, and provide all the amenities a Young lady of quality should have. Slowly, however, as strange events unfold, Kate begins to realize that her aunt's apparent benevolence hides an ulterior motive. To assure succession of the title, her aunt intends Kate to marry her cousin Torquil, until his increasingly bizarre behavior culminates in violence and tragedy. A compelling tale exploring mental illness in the Regency period. (from Goodreads)
Cousin Kate is one of three gothic novels Georgette Heyer wrote; this one’s more traditionally gothic, as it doesn’t really mess with any of the gothic romance conventions like Sylvester did. It’s creepy, romantic and everything you could want in a gothic novel!
At the start, Cousin Kate reads like a typical GH romance. It’s light-hearted and funny, and Kate herself is the typical GH heroine: she’s intelligent, friendly, elegant and super determined. She’s so determined she’s willing to get a job! Yay! Once she moves into her aunt’s house, though, she loses a lot of her determination, which sucked. Perhaps she was crushed under the gothic atmosphere.
Most of the creepiness comes from people being either outright crazy (Torquil) or not explaining things they probably should (Philip). They’re all trapped in a huge (creepy) house together, which amps up the tension, and as Kate doesn’t know wtf is going on there’s a confusion re:people’s motives. Great stuff!
The only thing that annoyed me is the thing that ALWAYS annoys me in horror books: Kate is not genre savvy and she spends a lot of time trying to explain away things when they’re OBVIOUSLY signs of danger. People, if someone gives you skeevy feelings, even if that person is your aunt who is acting nothing but nice, listen to your gut and get out of that house!
So anyway, Kate refuses to believe that her aunt is doing anything bad until right near the end. To her credit, most of the horrible things her aunt does are unprovable, because they tend to be stuff like gaslighting and emotional manipulation. And Kate’s blinded by how nicely her aunt treated her– practically smothered her with kindness, in fact. Kate mentions feeling smothered several times, but still refuses to leave because it’d be rude. FINE, Kate, be polite while living in a madhouse! I’ll just be screaming at you from behind my Kindle.
Kate’s cousin, Torquil, seems on the surface to be the biggest danger. He’s volatile and mercurial and maybe killed a rabbit by ripping its head off (again, no proof). But I spent most of the time feeling sorry for him. He’s trapped in the house with his uber-controlling mother and doormat father; he has no friends and no interests and it’s terrifically sad. Doesn’t help matters that it’s never entirely spelled out whether he was View Spoiler »always insane from childhood, or whether he was just a little Regency-equivalent bipolar and his mother made him worse. (I think I’d go with the latter, just because she seems like the sort of person who’d deliberately turn someone paranoid/delusional/etc. just to keep them with her.) « Hide Spoiler
There is a romance element, of course! Kate and View Spoiler »Philip « Hide Spoiler are a good couple, I suppose, though they’ve only known each other a WEEK and have already decided that they’re in love and need to get married ASAP. A week! Even in other GH books with fast romances, I think the couples generally know each other for longer than a WEEK before deciding they’re in love. Sheesh.
The ending! Was so depressing. And yet also kind of happy? Everything’s fixed, but it’s fixed through View Spoiler »murder-suicide « Hide Spoiler. The tone is very strange, jolting from happy to sad like a yo-yo, but somehow it works. I was happy that Kate and co. were happy, but I wasn’t rejoicing like I usually do at the end of a Georgette Heyer book. To unsettled!
I definitely recommend Cousin Kate for those of you who like gothic romances; it’s spooky and romantic and sad and happy.
Read: February 7-8, 2014