Sarah Ferguson probably knows a thing or two about snobbery. The Duchess of York married into the royal family in 1986 and remains one of its most unique members – quite a feat. Her latest project is a novel by Mills & Boon, known for their energetic romances that often solicit their own snobbery from literary critics. But Her heart for a compass not a bad attempt at all; it manages to live up to most expectations for a Mills & Boon book while quietly unmasking some of their worst traits.
There are very few details about Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott – “Lady M” – who inspired the book, which Ferguson and her co-author, Mills & Book veteran Marguerite Kaye, take full advantage of. . Readers will recognize many of Ferguson’s images in the book’s flame-haired heroine. Lady M flees an arranged marriage with a man she hates, first to Ireland, where she writes children’s books. Then it went to New York, where she became – scandal – a journalist and philanthropist.
At 500 pages, the book can become a catchphrase at times, but Ferguson’s character is likable enough to make you want to stick with her. There’s a lot of impressive historical detail, though it often comes across as a belated or blocked thought. Victorian photographer Jabez Hughes is briefly mentioned, as is Florence Nightingale. Some passages, such as that about AT Stewart’s dry goods store, read like Wikipedia entries: “Called the Iron Palace, every floor and showroom of this magnificent dry goods store is overflowing with water. Flooded with light from large windows and glass domes that rise above the central atrium. Screenwriters are busier with setting new obstacles for Lady M. Mills & Boon fans who may be disappointed that there aren’t any ‘improper relationships.’ There’s a smile. kissed a priest, followed by a long stretch before tongue-tied in front of a roaring waterfall.
A little Little women’of Jo March in Lady M and her determination to “find herself” before agreeing to marry, as well as when she questions social conventions. She doesn’t faint easily like other Mills & Boon heroines or express a desire to be dominated by a man older than her, by genre standards. There are some inconsistencies in the writing style, most likely due to having two authors rather than inexperience on Ferguson’s part. What sustains is Lady M’s growth – her “impulsive” nature is gradually being replaced by more mature handling of problems rather than simply running away from them. Her heart for a compass won’t set up pulse races, but it does a good job of warming cockles.
‘Her Heart for a Compass’ by Sarah Ferguson now out, published by Mills & Boon and HarperCollins, £14.99
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/fergie-her-heart-for-a-compass-review-b1895835.html Sarah Ferguson’s Her Heart for a Compass review: Duchess of York’s Mills & Boon debut is beloved, but won’t set pulse races