A cursory glance at the jacket copy makes clear why I picked this book up: it’s a fictional account of Lord Byron’s wife, and thus Byron. Byron’s work is delightful, he was a fascinating person, and I’m a tad enamoured. I love Byron no less after this imaginative and vivid account of his cruel humor and selfish megalomania, not to mention his more depraved side, but I don’t recommend anybody actually read A Quiet Adjustment by Benjamin Markovits (Fathers and Daughters, Imposture).
Is Byron’s character pure imagination on Markovits‘ part? Hardly. He embellishes the facts but not the characters of the ill matched pair of Annabella Millbanke and Lord Byron. Prudish, self-righteous, and dignified Anabella had no idea what she was getting into when she ended up marrying tempestuous, willful, and perverse Lord Byron. Their marriage seems like an accident on both their parts, as Annabella felt little love and Byron less. Byron’s antics from shattering bottles on the ceiling during her confinement to carrying on an affair with his sister in front of her eyes are horrid. Markovits tackles Annabella’s inept reaction to his behavior that put off divorce for too long, and then refused to name the most terrible ground for divorce. (What that unnamed reason was remains a mystery, rumored to be incest or sodomy.)
Would I recommend this novel to those who couldn’t give 2 figs about Byron? Absolutely not; it’s dull. The monotony of A Quiet Adjustment, with its accomplished character development and good sense of setting, stems from the plot and not the author. Of course, I happened to know the ending, but the more basic failure is that its plot follows that of the real Annabella’s life. Life does not often form the arc of suspense and conclusion that a satisfactory plot requires.
Unless you happen to be Lord Byron, and then you continue to live, love and write the rollicking Don Juan until your death fighting for Greek Independence. Byron makes a much better story than a person, and no doubt Annabella was a better person than she makes as a story. Markovits choose an angle for his story that is more of a straight line, which is shame because as a writer he seems capable of more.
Bottom line: read Byron instead.