Monday, August 30, 2010

The Luxe

I've picked up three books recently all for very different reasons. The first was Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because I just had to know what all the buzz was about. The second was Handle With Care, which I'm reading for my book club as it's classic Jodi Picoult with moral dilemmas that will surely produce much group discussion and debate. Lastly, there was Anna Godbersen's The Luxe which I selected for a getaway beach weekend. It's the first installment in a series and the one I plan to review today.

Here's the description from Publishers Weekly:
With a quote from The Age of Innocence as an epigraph and an enthusiastic blurb from the creator of Gossip Girl on its back cover, this lavishly produced debut makes no secret of its twin influences. The story opens in 1899 with the funeral of Elizabeth Holland, a well-bred beauty said to have plunged to her death in the Hudson River. The narrative then travels back several weeks, tracing the relationships and events that have led to the somber assembly. This tangled web includes not one but two sets of star-crossed lovers; an upstairs/downstairs romance; a scheming social climber; a bitter servant girl; and oodles of money, all set in a Edith Wharton via Hollywood vision of Old New York. The dialogue has its clunky moments, and the plot twist that drives the tale is telegraphed from the very start, but readers caught up in the fancy dress intrigue are unlikely to mind much: it’s all part of the dishy fun.

This description seems spot-on. The opulence of this society, the adult-like behaviors and obligations of the characters, a New York City setting, and the obsession with the society pages all seem to tap into the kind of glamour and drama of Gossip Girl. I also saw some parallels to Pride and Prejudice with the family in fiscal constraints with a mother eager to marry off her "perfect" daughter (e.g. Jane Bennet or in this case Elizabeth Holland). The fanciful, carefree sister who does as she pleases (Lydia Bennet or in The Luxe, Diana Holland) and how one of the sisters immediate distaste for uber bachelor Henry Schoonmaker undergoes a complete makeover by the book's end.

There are a few cliche story lines to help setup the plot but they're forgivable. The prose is well written, the descriptions of characters and setting are very thorough, and the historical accuracy of this time period make it on the whole a winning piece. I plowed through it on the beach, desperate to learn how--if at all--the several pairs of star-crossed lovers were going to make amends or be wed into loveless marriages. The society excerpts from 1899 Manhattan provided a unique stamp and legitimacy to the book and had all the addictive pleasure of flipping through US Weekly. What's delicious about this novel is that in a world where there are so many rules to dictate how one should look and act and with whom and how, the characters find ways to sneak around the rules in the dark of night or through secret correspondences and rendezvous that will leave you wanting to pick up the next juicy installment for a fun weekend read.

I couldn't unearth an authentic book trailer but I found this very well done fan trailer which I thought I'd share. It accurately taps into many of the books themes and, accompanied with the music, illustrates the occasional bursts of suspense. Enjoy!

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