Okay, so this book is getting sillier and sillier. If McCullough expects me to like Angus Sinclair then she shouldn't have him behave like a ninny and fall in love with someone, sight unseen, of the sister of a women he finds attractive. And, every time she talks about Mary's beauty, I choke. The only way that I could believe that Mary was other than plain and a crashing bore was to see her evolve. Apparently McCullough didn't believe Charlotte Bronte when she protested that a heroine doesn't have to be beautiful for a reader to care deeply about her story. And Mary may be now beautiful but she's still pedantic, preaching to us regarding how silly novels are (i.e., Fanny Burney and Mrs. Radcliffe).
When I last left Mary, she was making her way north to Manchester, via Pemberley, and was having an awful time dealing with the realities of traveling alone by stage. Get this, she was actually accosted by a highway man, knocked on the head, and has woken up in an underground prison of some sort. Paging Henry Tilney...if only he had been around and able to tell McCullough to "remember, that we are English."
Another gripe, Mary is off to learn about the poor of England, but having spent the past six months reading Gaskell I am struck by the self-righteousness of this. If McCullough wants to tell us about the plight of the poor of England, circa 1830, then she should tell some of the stories of the individuals as Gaskell did, not just go on about a relatively well-off woman needing to find a purpose to her life.
The writing is clumsy as well--at one point (the chapters aren't numbered, so I can't give you that, but the page is 85 of the hb edition), McCullough parenthetically tells us that a guinea "was worth slightly more than a pound, having twenty-one shillings to it rather than twenty." Interesting in itself but not germane to the story at all.
As you can tell, I'm not liking the book right now, but I shall forge ahead. Stay tuned.