Cat & Fiddle: a novel

Lesley Jorgensen

Cat & Fiddle: a novel
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Cat & Fiddle: a novel

Lesley Jorgensen

Cat and Fiddle centres on two families whose lives become entwined at the country estate of Bourne Abbey.

While Dr Choudhury is busy advising Henry Bourne on the restoration of the abbey to its former glory, his wife’s main concern is marrying off their three children, whose chances of good matches are dwindling by the day. Thankfully, for the royal family always seems to have a solution to her problems: how to find a wife for a reluctant son; how to manage a difficult father-in-law; and, of course, how not to deal an inter-faith relationship.

Then there’s the Bourne family. Henry’s wife, Thea, is feeling lost, now that she’s got the lifestyle she’s always longed for. His elder brother, Richard, a successful London barrister, finds himself increasingly drawn to the family home - the inheritance that he’s given up. Meanwhile, Henry just wants to keep the peace, but that’s proving to be tricky…

And finally, there’s Bourne Abbey itself: the repository of an ancient mystery that links the histories and cultures of the Bournes and the Choudhurys in a way that no one could have anticipated.

Review

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice seems to be an inexhaustible source of literary rummaging for the writers of today – from Colm Tóibin’s solemn tribute in Brooklyn to P.D. James’ somewhat more tongue-in-cheek Death Comes to Pemberley to name but a two. Lesley Jørgensen’s Cat & Fiddle treads lightly in the path of Austen and her company. While not directly related to Pride and Prejudice, it never quite loses eye contact. It forms something of a contemporary comedy of manners, match-ups and misunderstandings, albeit with the added twist of racial prejudice and gender politics in modern-day Britain.

Cat & Fiddle won the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize in 2011 and centres on two families, the Muslim-Bangladeshi Choudhurys and the upper-class English Bournes. Dr Choudhury and his wife, Mrs Begum, have settled down in relative idyll in the countryside of Wiltshire. He is primarily concerned with his wife’s homecooking and enjoying a peaceful sabbatical, while she is intent on arranging marriages for her three children (cue Mr and Mrs Bennett). Her well-intended meddling is of course thrown by the fact that her son Tariq, and daughters Rohimun and Shunduri are dealing with their own secrets, affairs and social strife, all of which is brought out of the dark corners as soon as marriage is on the table.

Meanwhile, the Bournes too are uniquely unhappy in their happiness. Wealthy husband and wife Henry and Theresa are attempting to restore the grand family estate of Bourne Abbey with the help of Dr Choudhury, but dissatisfaction is brewing between them, especially when Henry’s distant older brother Richard makes a return and the two families are drawn closer together.

It’s easy to see why Jørgensen’s debut will delight and charm. Her eye for cultural and social detail, dialogue and comedy is sharp and wry. All the characters are just the right amount of familiar and new – the beautiful and superficial Shunduri a reincarnation of Austen’s Lydia, and the more serious and artistic Rohimun and quiet Richard echoes of Elizabeth and Darcy. One could argue that it all ties up rather neatly in coincidence and with conflict resolved, but then again, isn’t that how we want it to be? With its outward eye, this is a brave book for Jørgensen to have written, observant and reaching.

Jessica Au is editor of the *Readings Monthly*

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