Another very interesting book by an accomplished author. I liked the characters better than in Beast, but still I'm not sure I'd name this as one of may all-time best of the best favorites.
Submit Channing-Downes is the newly widowed wife of Henry, the Marquess of Motmarche. Submit was much younger than her husband; she admired and loved him and often quotes him during the book. Henry left an illegitimate son, William, and an adopted nephew, Graham, both of whom hated Henry. Both found Henry to be dictatorial, manipulative, conceited, hypocritical, and judgmental.
At Henry's death William starts court proceedings to throw Submit out of her house, and Submit discovers that Henry's will demands that she deliver a black box to Graham Wessit. Graham is currently facing court proceedings of his own, as recently a young washerwoman has accused him publicly of fathering her twins.
With that premise, the book involves uncovering layers of meaning. The meaning of and the message behind the drawings in the black box. (Are they meant to protect Graham from future embarrassment or to remind him of past embarrassment?) The type of man Henry was. (Was he a protective and loving husband or a "pompous, domineering, belligerent son of a bitch"?) Graham's relationship with his family. (Should he give William money if that money allows William to further contest Henry's will?)
Graham keeps a mistress throughout most of the book, even as he becomes more intrigued with Submit. He keeps forty guests at his summer house, plays with fireworks, and arranges boat races. He often looks to be playing the part of a dissolute lord, but then it's not clear if he's putting on the expected role or if he really is the childish man of the moment.
I really liked Graham. He seems to be flopping around in his life trying to figure out where he can fit. He'd rather not live by rebelling against the expectations of Henry, but then he can't help himself but rebel whenever Henry makes a demand. There's a period in the middle of the book where Graham is visiting Submit at a country inn, neither in London nor all the way in the country at Graham's other familiar habitat, his estate. Judith Ivory made an interesting choice, placing these characters in geographic middle ground. Neither is wholly comfortable, so they dance and weave through conversations, wanting to become closer, but reluctant to give up too much detail. There are some attempted kisses here--ones which are also gently rebuffed. This section is a delight to read. (I actually went back and read through it again before finishing the book. I've never done that before.)
The two characters do ultimately end up with each other, once Submit leaves the inn and enters into Graham's world at his estate. Graham insists that Submit doesn't understand passion or fun, and Submit insists that Graham is too flighty to be reliable. But somehow it works (mostly because of the depth of their conversations, rather than their overarching passion).
The only bit that somehow didn't click for me in Black Silk was the passion and the sex. I can feel Graham's hunger for Submit. I can see Submit's attraction to Graham. But when they finally have sex it was so over the top amazing, Oh my God, I've never experienced this before, perfect without flaw, that it didn't seem to belong to these characters. They have sex on the stairs, he chases Submit through the house while she giggles and screams. None of this works for me. The entire work up to this point has seemed to me to be about fumbling through misconceptions until you discover who you are or how you wish to behave. And then we hit the note of, "But hey, at least the free sex is great. Weee!" Doesn't seem possible to me that these characters would behave this way with each other.
Now, to be fair, as soon as the sex is over, the characters fall back into their rhythm of half truths, forced admissions, pressure and retreat. The dialogue always works, but there's something about the actions of these characters that's not quite true.
I feel as if I've just eaten a raspberry. Black Silk is a wonderful book, I liked Graham and Submit, their situations, the plot, the descriptions, the dialogue, and the minor characters. I enjoyed the raspberry, but after finishing it, there's a seed stuck between my teeth that is annoying. I don't remember finding the seed that annoying when I was enjoying the raspberry, but now it's all I can think of.