Sometimes everything in stories comes together to make a great “show,” if you will, and The Fifth Kiss did just that. I found it highly entertaining, and alternating between being infuriating and delightful, which is what a good romance should be. Yes, yes, we women like the drama. It’s exciting, it’s where we often find our adventure. This was a standout among what I’ve read from the mystery box last summer so far. I’ve got about fifteen novels left. This one is written by Elizabeth Mansfield, who had a short story in the Christmas compilation with somewhat similar characters. She likes bookish girls, or Bluestockings, as they were called back then.
First and foremost, The Fifth Kiss would be easily adapted to TV, a show or a miniseries. That was the appeal to me, I could see it as a show, a successful one at that. Not only does it start out with our heroine, Olivia, shocked–shocked I tell you!–but throughout the tale we get to be upset and exasperated along with her as she finds out that the hero, Miles Strickland, Earl of Langley, is all too often right. We meet many other interesting characters, and have a really cool second romance later in the book. Several characters are there waiting to be further developed, and there could be several subplots added to the main story. Olivia is at first someone we like, and then don’t like, as we realize that Miles is correct, she interferes when she should not, but then we, along with him, come to love her again, as she’s such a dear with her niece and nephew and is really very good at running a household. Many relationships abound throughout the book, not just romantic ones, but those of father to daughter, brother to sister, father to son, masters to servants, and the like. Social and political commentary is also woven throughout the story and could be expanded upon in a show.
I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked our hero by the end. So many of these stories seem to think it’s a desirable thing for a man of that time to have a lot of experience sleeping around before he finds “the one” and gets married. In this one, we are shown a different view of infidelity and just what that means. It is sobering to remember that two people are always involved. We so often think a man or wife just goes out to cheat on their own, and sometimes that is the case, but sometimes it is that their spouses have left them or retreated from them in some way. Doesn’t make cheating or infidelity right, of course, but it puts things into perspective: Neither is it right for spouses to cut their partners out of a piece or pieces of their lives. A marriage is two lives wholly shared, much more than any other relationship. Someday I hope to experience that also, but, for now I have the tacky romances.
This one wasn’t so tacky, really, the cringiest part was when Olivia Matthews takes it upon herself to get some kissing experience and it was just hard to believe she’s quite that dumb, but some people are. Mansfield got the descriptions right, the strange experience when someone has more emotion or ardor than you do. It’s sort of a disembodying thing, and of course sad for the other person to be kissing you so ardently with no response, but it happens. Unrequited love, unrequited attraction, such a great disappointment, not evil exactly, but it’s always something that seems like it should not be, a great wrongness in the world. However, a couple of the men in this story press on when they should not, forcing their physical attentions on the hapless Miss Matthews. No matter how sorry I may be for them, it just isn’t right. Olivia bears up well, though really doesn’t seem to understand the danger she sometimes puts herself in.
The part about the story that got to me was Olivia’s moral outrage, which ended up being misplaced, and her interference. Sometimes we–often, but not always, women–see a wrongness and think we have to, we must correct it. Really, we should wait and see first if anyone is asking us to interfere, yes, even if God is asking us to interfere. Most of the time not only is it not our place, but also there’s always more to story that we don’t know, and our interference will only make things worse, especially if it’s not wanted. In this case, the true moral wrongness was a wife cutting a husband out of her life, perhaps with the intention of saving him from pain, but giving him more pain in the process. Olivia is humbled and a bit bewildered. She really doesn’t understand what a marriage relationship is or means. And she really does not understand men, but fortunately, she grows up through out the story and comes to understand how to deal with them and bring out the best in them, well, at least in one of them. That was very great to read.
The Fifth Kiss is one that may stay on my shelves, though it’s no Jane Austen, so time will tell. There are actually six kisses or series of kisses in the novel, and it is the fifth one which makes our hero realize he loves Olivia. He finds it horrid to find her in the arms of another man, even if her feelings for the man are stone cold. So, nothing especially magic with a fifth kiss, just that it was the turning point in the romance of the story.