The Gentleman of Holly Street by Lotte R. James – A story of a self made man and a determined woman
The Gentleman of Holly Street by Lotte R. James
Many romance novels set in the early nineteenth century involve lords and ladies, dukes and aristocrats generally. This book by Lotte James is different, more difficult to predict, because it involves people who have had to build themselves, and their businesses, institutions, from nothing, or at least very little. This is a novel in which the main characters, the determined Freddie Walton and the mysterious Philomena Nichols, work hard and try hard to ensure what they do contributes to the greater good. For Freddie it is a business that not only succeeds and grows, but also recognises the need for moral standards in not exploiting the workers and suppliers. This is almost a contemporary concern for readers, in my opinion, in the twenty first century; luxurious and desirable goods should not mean that those who work hard on them should suffer. Mena – Philomena – is also incredibly aware that there are those denied the basics of life, even though they have worked hard or shown bravery in many ways.
Both Freddie and Mena have pasts that are filled with difficult memories, that if given full reign would stop them in their tracks. They have come together to work hard along parallel lines, living in the same building, coming together to make a business that will support not only themselves but all those willing to work with them. They are friends, but not lovers, partners only in a complementary working and living sense. Both are frightened that if they take a step too far, express their feelings, they will lose the other forever. Thus, a delicate tension is established between them and as they begin to achieve their goals either with or without the other’s knowledge and support, they both know that they must let the other know what is going on, but know that in doing so they run the risk of effectively letting the other go forever. When danger threatens it may be a release, but it may also wreck the delicate balance that they have achieved.
From Freddie’s discovery of Mena at the beginning of the novel throughout their parallel thoughts and concerns, James manages to construct a lovely and convincing picture of their lives, of the approach of Christmas which may mean mutual revelations, of how they work so hard to make a difference, of how they quietly work to achieve their aims. James’ descriptions of how they are interested in small details, Freddie’s of his successful business, Mena of the books that will spread knowledge and joy for others, shows a great depth of research and understanding which is never too obvious. There is also a genuine attraction which is brilliantly expressed. The plot is well constructed, with the careful hints of what both protagonists have endured, and the power of the past to affect the future. While Mena fears that she has needed and continues to want Freddie’s protection, she has nevertheless achieved so much both known and unknown.
I really enjoyed getting to know Freddie as a gentleman of Holly Street, of Mena as a strong person in her own right, and the romance that goes far beyond the normal story of the success of the Season or orthodox relationships. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and I recommend it as a seasonal romance with a twist.