A Quiet Adjustment

A Quiet Adjustment

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by Benjamin Markovits
     
 

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A psychological thriller of passionate attachment and emotional cruelty, involving a love triangle between Lord Byron, his half-sister, and his wife.
To dissolve a dreadfully mistaken union between two formidable egos: surely it should only take "a quiet adjustment"? Inspired by the actual biography of Lord Byron—the greatest literary figure and most

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Overview

A psychological thriller of passionate attachment and emotional cruelty, involving a love triangle between Lord Byron, his half-sister, and his wife.
To dissolve a dreadfully mistaken union between two formidable egos: surely it should only take "a quiet adjustment"? Inspired by the actual biography of Lord Byron—the greatest literary figure and most notorious sex symbol of his age—Benjamin Markovits reimagines Byron's marriage to the capable, intellectual, and tormented Annabella and the scandal that broke open their lives and riveted the world around them: Byron's incestuous relationship with his impetuous half-sister, Gus. Their very different understandings of love and obligation lead them all—and the reader—headlong to a devastating conclusion.Acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic for his memorable prose and acute sense of character, Markovits here sets a new standard for the literary historical novel. A Quiet Adjustment is at once immersed in its period, an homage to Byron and his work, and a thoroughly modern fiction in the psychologically incisive vein of Ian McEwan and Colm Tóibín.

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Editorial Reviews

Jay Parini
Though a marvelous poet, [Byron] was also a monster, abusive and recklessly selfish. Although Markovits asks us to spend relatively little time in his company, Byron's depredations come through loud and clear: to know him is to dislike him. Luckily, Annabella stands at the center of the narrative—a beautifully drawn character, portrayed with moral clarity as well as complexity.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

When Lord Byron married Annabella Milbanke in 1815, neither anticipated the epic scandal that would ensue, one that novelist Markovits (Fathers and Daughters, etc.) captures beautifully in this elegant reconstruction, focused entirely on Annabella. Divided into three sections ("Courtship," "Marriage" and "Separation") the book opens as 19-year-old Annabella acknowledges her own desire for fame and power, or what her mother, Judy, calls "scope." In the marriage section, Annabella's vision of Byron, whom she knew more through his poetry and his two-year epistolary pursuit of her than in person, shatters on living with the real personality-a compound of debts, moodiness and one big guilty secret. Markovits makes her discoveries suspenseful, and the secret's revelation gothic. The wrenching "adjustment" that follows in the marriage finds Annabella, ever observant, using Byron's secret to craft his ultimate punishment. Markovits's choice of an ornate Jamesian style captures every nuance of Annabella's shift from the victimized wife to the sinister deliberateness of the vengeful ex-spouse. As she remarks at the end about her husband, "I feel like I have been reaching towards him all my life, without the warmth of his affection, the cold hand of love." Markovits plumbs the very depths of this passionate chill. (Sept.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Byron's life is revisited in a stylized fictional portrait that focuses less on the brilliant poet, more on the impossible husband. Markovits (Imposture, 2007, etc.) shifts his scrutiny to Annabella Milbanke, Byron's wife. How the perceptive 19-year-old, who has turned down five proposals and is blessed with youth, beauty and "an unimpeachable goodness," comes to accept an approach from the newly famous author of Childe Harold, reputedly having an affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, is lengthily recorded in debates about propriety, virtue, vanity and morality among Annabella's friends, family and high-born confidantes. Once married and on honeymoon, Annabella finds herself more dependent on and less loved by her husband than she had expected, as well as shocked by his unhappiness, cruelty, debts and drinking. Worse is to follow during a visit to Augusta Leigh, Byron's half sister, when Annabella comes to realize that an "unspeakable" (i.e. incestuous) relationship likely exists between the two. Despite her revulsion, she continues to try to be the best wife she can and a sister to Augusta, but after the birth of Byron and Annabella's daughter, she leaves to visit her parents, reports the "menaces, furies, neglect and infidelities" she has suffered and files for separation. With gossip swirling, she later devotes herself to saving Augusta from ruin, a decision which eventually contributes to the burning of Byron's memoirs. Markovits's delicate, painstaking, psychologically and socially acute examination of Byron's women can seem overwhelmed by its length and stylistic devotion.
The Scotsman
A psychological masterpiece.— Amy Mathieson
New York Times Book Review
Eloquent. . . . Annabella stands at the center of the narrative—a beautifully drawn character, portrayed with moral clarity as well as complexity.— Jay Parini
Amy Mathieson - The Scotsman
“A psychological masterpiece.”
Jay Parini - New York Times Book Review
“Eloquent. . . . Annabella stands at the center of the narrative—a beautifully drawn character, portrayed with moral clarity as well as complexity.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393067002
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/15/2008
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Markovits grew up in Texas and London, where he now lives. He teaches at the University of London. He contributes to the New York Times, The Paris Review, Granta, the Times Literary Supplement, and others.

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