Perhaps the most poignant and heart-rending historical romance novel written by Lisa Kleypas is the last book in the Hathaway series, Love In The Afternoon. It stars the youngest Hathaway sister, Beatrix, who has a profound love for animals and Christopher Phelan, a celebrated war hero.
I was quite reluctant to read this book mainly because I didn't want to let go of the family that has captured my heart--the Hathaways. In comparison to the Wallflower series, I felt more attachment to the characters in the five books.
I actually prefer Poppy's story but there is something about Bea and Christopher's story that snatches a piece of your soul. It is like one of those Shakespearean love stories we have come to love in the past century but without the tragedy.
It all started with a letter. Christopher signed up to become a solider and join the war against Germany in Crimea. He wrote a letter to Prudence, Bea's best friend. Prudence, known for her shallowness, could not get past the lurid details of battle Christopher described in his letter. But Bea, being very receptive to deep emotions and hidden feelings instantly knew Christopher's need for someone to talk to. She urged Prudence to reply. But Pru being a shallow girl couldn't summon any interest to Christopher's plight. She then gave Bea permission to write a reply in her stead.
That precipitated the exchange of letters. You can feel Christopher's transformation from a carefree British nobleman to a hardened and embittered soldier who has seen and caused a lot of deaths. His need for someone to heal the cracks in his soul is palpable in his letters. He craves for the normalcy and peace of the life he has left behind. And letter by letter, Bea has sought out to create a semblance of hope and happiness to his battle-scarred existence.
And that is when you fall in love.
Christopher didn't know it was Bea writing the letters. He thought it was Prudence. After the battle, he went home to find the woman he loved in the letters. But when he arranged for a meeting with her, he was disillusioned because he couldn't find the Prudence he loved in the letters in the Prudence he met in real life.
He eventually found out that someone else wrote the letter.
At first I thought it was going to be anticlimactic. I wasn't expecting anything more comfortable than the first book, more passionate than the second, more heart-rending than the third or more entertaining than the fourth. It was a surprise to find a different tone to this book.
What Christopher has gone through is very real in this day and age. Most of us have to deal with emotional scars that take a long time to heal. Most of us have to go through difficulties to become someone else--someone better. It takes one war (literally or figuratively) to change a person entirely, to create a new perspective in life.
I was also feeling melancholic for Beatrix. Surrounded with her siblings' happy family, she is the odd-man-out. Although her brother and her 3 sisters are quick to include her in their life, you can still feel her loneliness. And the fact that nobody is offering for her hand also adds up to that. Men cannot appreciate her vitality and exuberance and they also do not share her love for animals.
But the faults and the cracks in their personalities drew them together. The war has thought Christopher how to value the things that an average man might have overlooked.
This book is a keeper, like all other Lisa Kleypas novels. I *might* insert snippets of the love letters Christopher and Bea sent to each other in the future for your reading pleasure (or not :)).