I really enjoyed the first instalment of Jasper Barry’s Miremont trilogy; I loved the second. We first met Max Fabien as a footman in Belle Époque France in The Second Footman. During the course of the novel, he had caught the eye of the middle-aged Marquis de Miremont and the two had embarked on an illicit relationship, constrained by social status and by the rigid codes of their world. Max is by no means the average footman – he is resourceful and he has educated himself to a high level. It is clear that he has aspirations to improve his social status, and we’re not always entirely sure of his motivations regarding the mild-mannered Miremont. Despite this, I found myself moved by the scenes between the two men and by the time we catch up with them again in That Deplorable Boy, Max is an established part of Miremont’s household, ostensibly as his secretary. They seem to have settled into a deeper relationship, and their shared love of classical literature allows them to communicate covertly.
The arrival of Miremont’s estranged wife, for the purpose of finding their daughter Juliette a husband, shatters the fragile equilibrium Max and Miremont have achieved, and Barry does what he does brilliantly – we’re thrown into the turmoil and tension between social expectation and personal feeling. Miremont’s wife, Aline, is a perfect monster and I really enjoyed the sections told from the perspective of Juliette. Families are complicated at the best of times, but an estranged wife hell-bent on returning to what she perceives to be her rightful place in the world makes for superb drama. Max’s position, alongside any servant who doesn’t please, becomes increasingly vulnerable in this febrile atmosphere. Juliette is an excellent addition to the trilogy – the narrative takes a new turn here, and Barry uses her very effectively.
Max, perhaps bolstered by his place in the Marquise’s heart, is a gentler character in this novel. We learn more about the traumas of his childhood, and some of his behaviour in the first novel is now more fully understood. That Deplorable Boy is where we see him come of age – he has lost some of the desperation he feels in the first novel, and is becoming more aware of what others around him live through. I’m hoping Book Three is well under way – I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens to both Max and ‘the old boy’ next.
My thanks to Rachel at @rararesources for my review copy.
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