I’m always hesitant to start a story with high hopes, and E. F. Benson’s Lucia seems truly to be treated like a queen—a book blurb quotes W. H. Auden as a “devoted fan,” while a website gives a glossary of people and places. I was eager to join the ranks of the elite, and immediately felt erudite for understanding the references to Elizabethan culture and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the first chapter.
While Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire Chronicles are rife with comedy, life in Queen Lucia’s Riseholme is more ironic than funny, a dance of personalities that involves just as much thought as action. From Lucia’s appropriation of the guru to Daisy Quantock’s false medium, each move is calculated to have specific effects on various neighbors. To outsiders like Olga Bracely these events are unpredictable and amusing, but to the residents they are merely a routine way of life.
We see most of the story through the eyes of Georgie Pilson, a devotee of both Lucia and Olga who must reconcile the conflicting elements. He is somewhat of a laughable figure, prone to vanity and eager to please, who almost seems emasculated with his bevy of female friends. Most of the other male characters are indulgent but removed from the various schemes of their wives.
Lucia, though often petty and vain, is definitely a memorable character even if not always likeable. When she does get her comeuppance I actually felt sorry for her, as nothing seems actually ill-intentioned. The way she tosses fragments of Italian into conversation definitely reminded me of a friend who often does the same thing (but more for personal enjoyment); the baby-talk, however, got old quickly.
I would by no means call myself devoted, as the book seems to lack the charm of other series, but I was interested and engrossed for the whole novel and have decided to see the series through.