‘Meet Nellie Welche - companion to royalty and keeper of secrets ...Nellie Welche is the daughter of a high-ranking steward in the household of Prinnie, Prince of Wales. In 1788, at the age of twelve, she's proposed as a suitably humble companion to Princess Sophia, one of George III's enormous brood of children. Nellie and Sofy become friends for life. From the first rumblings of revolution in France to the exciting, modern times of gas light and steam trains, from poor mad George to safe and steady Victoria, Nellie is the sharp-penned narrator of a changing world and the unchanging, cloistered lives of Princess Sofy and her sisters. Nellie proves to be more a hawk-eyed witness than a Humble Companion, as her memoir lifts the lid on the House of Hanover's secrets and lies.’
Twelve year old Nellie Welche’s parents are thrilled when she becomes a ‘humble companion’ to Princess Sophia, one of the many children of George III. As she observes the goings on at court, Nellie’s life is changed and tried by her involvement with the Royals, several of whom she remains lifelong friends with. Like a breath of fresh air in the closeted lives of Sophia and her sisters, Nellie soon proves herself worthy of being trusted with even their darkest secrets.
The gentle pace of the novel kept me interested, but I’m afraid not completely enthralled. I thought having a non-Royal watching and commenting on the doings and misdemeanours of the Hanovers would work very well, but Nellie was just a little too much of an outsider to really make the situation work. She doesn’t actually spend that much time with the Royals, and goes lengthy periods with very little contact with them. She also only really mixes with the female members of the family, which is a shame, although clearly accurate for the time.. The list of Royal characters at the beginning of the book certainly came in handy - the Hanovers were a very large family and it helped to have a little reference guide to refer to.
Nellie was an engaging and likeable character and I genuinely wanted things to turn out well for her. She was by no means a door mat, but the time she lived in meant that she didn’t always have the freedom to make the right choices for herself. However, Nellie never loses her wonderful spirit and Laurie Graham’s signature wicked sense of humour was beautifully present in many of Nellie’s little comments.
Focusing on her protagonists, the author gives the reader a clear and unbiased view of the period. However, whilst ‘A Humble Companion’ was undoubtedly very beautifully written, I kept waiting for a ‘big event’, but nothing occurred that seemed to fit the bill. Obviously there was plenty of excitement during the era the novel covers, but Nellie was a little too removed from it for my liking, and tended to be told about any excitement after it had actually happened.
I’m becoming a big fan of historical fiction, and I enjoyed reading about the period, Nellie herself, and especially the poor princesses, whose lives were nothing like I’d have expected. Nellie made a delightful heroine, her observations were wry and often very funny, and I particularly liked her relationship with Sophia. By putting the spotlight on the women of the age, Laurie Graham has produced a very interesting work and, although it didn’t always work for me, having Nellie as a sort of Hanoverian observer, gave some interesting insight into some extraordinary figures of the age.
'When Lady Enid - a woman in need of a project and a husband - throws in her lot with dashing Bernard Finch, she thinks she's found her perfect life's companion. Handsome and clever, Bernard has come a long way from his small-town American roots. Now he is a man transformed, more English than the English, a celebrated lecturer on Aegean cruises. Which is where his past comes back to bite him, in the shape of his old college chum, Frankie Gleeson. Frankie has made his fortune in corn snacks and to celebrate his success he brings his wife, Nola, to cruise the Greek islands. Frankie is a simple man but he has the gift of total recall, of every detail of Bernard's early years. Yet while Bernard shuns his cruise companions, Enid finds herself strangely drawn to them. It's amazing how much can happen between Istanbul and Venice.'
Lady Enid is accompanying her outwardly charming husband Professor Bernard Finch whilst he’s working as a history lecturer aboard a cruise liner. Bernard’s charisma usually makes him a big hit with the cruise passengers, but this trip turns out to be the exception.
Although they’ve been married for over twenty years, Enid knows little about Bernard’s life before they met. However, there is a passenger on this particular cruise, a man called Frankie Gleeson, who grew up living in the same street as Bernard, and knows rather more than the Professor would like.
When Bernard’s nervous agitation at Frankie’s claims leads to him refusing to leave their cabin, Enid finally gets to have some fun without her controlling husband. In between discovering the Internet and taking over Bernard’s tour guide duties, Enid comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t really like her pompous husband very much; in fact she’d like some answers to a few questions which have begun puzzling her most insistently, particularly involving her husband’s academic credentials.
Enid was an unusual but engaging protagonist. I found her enchanting and liked seeing her becoming more confident and stepping out of the shadows which Bernard had created for her around his own spotlight. Bernard’s behaviour often had me in stitches; he was extremely entertaining. How Enid put up with all his nonsense for so many years is beyond me.
Graham’s fun and intriguing story was littered with a smattering of classical history, which I relished. The descriptions of the various ‘stop offs’ on the cruise were brilliantly written and perfectly captured these beautiful places.
I loved reading about life on a cruise ship; it made for a very interesting setting. Bernard finds out it’s very hard to escape from someone you’re wanting to avoid on the ship, which makes for some very amusing confrontations.
What a wonderful discovery Laurie Graham was. ‘At Sea’ was a deliciously gentle and captivating story, and it’s subtle and intelligent comedy seeped tenderly from the page. The couple of little twists in the tale towards the end of the novel were expertly accomplished, bringing the book to a thoroughly satisfying and delightfully unexpected conclusion.