Sunday, October 29, 2006

My private world of Georgette Heyer

The battle rages in obscure corners and occasionally in the Amazon customer reviews.

Will Georgette Heyer finally be admitted into the hallowed ranks of “serious writers”? Or will she stay in the lace-edged, irrelevant world of historical romances? The world is not waiting with bated breath.

Those of us who already know are just deeply thankful for her mastery of her trade. Her books are a delight.

Mine tend to come fresh out of an Amazon carton or sometimes through strangers’ hands in a secondhand bookshop. But wherever they come from, they hold the reassuring smell of mothballs and Yardley lavender.

The Nonesuch is always the blue hardcover my mother read when she was young. Frederica is faded red, in the upstairs cupboard of a house in Ponnani. Arabella sits on a bookshelf in a sunny flat in Chennai. Beauvallet belongs to a frail old lady in a sturdy old house. The Grand Sophy is a severely restored volume that holds all the vast, weathered quiet of my college library. The ones on my bookshelf are merely manifestations.

For me, Georgette Heyer is forever mixed up with Lakme lipstick No. 53, Chanel No. 5, liquid foundation No. 3. Chiffon and cotton. Pearls and garnets. My mother, her mother, her aunts, my aunts. They’ve all read Georgette Heyer, almost as a rite of passage, but I think I’m the only one in my generation. That’s one more thing they shared that we don’t, my cousins and I.

Perhaps one day my niece will discover my books. If ever she has a private world of Georgette Heyer, I hope her aunt would have earned a place in it that’s at least half as kind. And the merest fraction as graceful.

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