From Publishers Weekly
A chance encounter in 1895 between a princess and a debonair military man leads to a scandalous relationship in British writer Jacobson's woefully stilted 10th novel. Princess Louise, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium, leaves her husband and embarks on an orgiastic spending spree across Europe with Geza Mattachich, a Croatian lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian army, racking up debts and fraudulently securing a lease for "one of the most beautiful properties on the French Riviera," the latter giving Louise's family an excuse to imprison Mattachich and place Louise in an asylum. After long years of internment, both escape and are reunited, thanks to the unlikely help of Maria Stöger, a working-class woman who had an affair with Mattachich in prison. Jacobson, unfortunately, fails to capitalize on the story's dramatic potential and errs on the side of half-baked biography over taut narrative; footnotes and excerpts from the historical princess's and lieutenant's self-serving memoirs and other obscure reference materials clutter swaths of pages, and the prose rarely rises about lackluster. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Jacobson presents the story of an affair, set deeply within a rich historical setting: pre-World War I Europe and a social sphere accustomed to palaces and luxurious hotels. The liaison partners are actual historical figures--Princess Louise, daughter of the king of Belgium, who married into a distinguished family high in court circles surrounding the emperor of Austria, and a more-or-less no-account lieutenant in the Austrian army, Geza Mattachich. Louise and Geza breach protocol by the carelessness of their affair. The result is banishment from Vienna, being viewed as social pariahs, and enduring critical financial hardship as they roam homeless over the continent. Even incarceration was part of their new life. Using a compelling third-person narrative voice--the author peers intimately into events but reports them with an ironic detachment--Jacobson, a highly regarded South African writer, offers footnotes throughout the narrative, which reference actual historical sources, including the lovers' memoirs. That technique makes for a brilliant anchoring of imagination to authenticity. This completely absorbing novel is at once serious and humorous; it is realistic but at the same time entertainingly melodramatic. Historical fiction as true liter
ary fiction. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved