I was willing, waiting and wanting to fall in love with Michelle Cooper's "A Brief History of Montmaray." Votaries compared the Aussie tale with Dodie Smith's classic romance "I Capture the Castle." One reviewer even dared suggest Montmary might be "even better than that much adored book." Unfortunately, the addition of extra plot and adventure do not automatically a better novel make.
Sophie FitzOsborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray, along with her tomboy younger sister Henry, her beautiful, intellectual cousin Veronica, and Veronica's father, the completely mad King John. When Sophie receives a leather-bound journal for her sixteenth birthday, she decides to write about her day-to-day life on the island. But it is 1936 and the world is in turmoil. Does the arrival of two strangers threaten everything that Sophie holds dear?
Montmaray does indeed share many elements with Castle--aristocratic poverty, eccentric family and scribbling heroine--but it falls short in more areas. Perhaps the most glaring to me, while not the most prominent, is the modern twist, soon to become cliche: Girl loves boy. Boy loves girl's brother. Yes, that was me hurling a spoiler. Live with it. I wish someone had mentioned it in one of the reviews I read. As it was, I received a repugnant shock when that little tidbit came to light.
My overall impression upon closing the book was a dewless morning--something lacking. Montmaray contains beauty, exhibits literary merit. But like a dry morning, with the grass bare of diamonds, something elusive was missing. Elusive, yet essential to classic storytelling.