Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen -- crossover romance for Young Adults and Adults

Full disclosure: I am not a romance reader. I don't know why, I just don't read romances. When Macaire handed me this 433-page Young Adult romance and asked me to review it, I felt quite daunted. However, after the first few pages I was hooked. Completely hooked! The Luxe is the first in what is expected to be a series of Young Adult romances in the vein of the Gossip Girls but set at the end of the Gilded Age. I have not read the Gossip Girls, so I don't know if the comparison is correct, but this is certainly full of gossip and scandalous behavior and rich society girls!

Teaser: The novel opens with the funeral of Elizabeth Holland, the perfect high society girl in 1899 Manhattan. Tragically, her funeral is held on the same day she was to marry the most eligible bad-boy bachelor of high society, Henry Schoonmaker. Elizabeth’s coffin, by the way, is empty – her body is never recovered from the East River. Was her death simply a tragic accident due to a spooked horse? Was it suicide in the face of a loveless marriage? Was it murder? The novel explores the last few weeks of Elizabeth's life, complete with sumptuous dresses and parties, vicious gossip, romantic intrigue, and family dilemmas.

My take: I spent the whole book wanting to find out what happened to Elizabeth Holland. The author sets up several plausible scenarios. The short chapters are like potato chips ("just one more... just one more..."). I also admit to being drawn in by the descriptions of the dresses worn by the young ladies of New York society at the turn of the century. It's not that I'm a girly girl - I'm not - it's just that the descriptions of the rich fabrics and elegant stitching are very appealing.

Elizabeth Holland, her sister Diana, and the scheming Penelope Hayes are interesting characters. The facets of their personalities and the falsities they have to live in high society are by turns fascinating and frustrating, as I'm sure the author intends. So many of the male characters are equally frustrating - from the self-centered rich blowhards to the ne'er do well cads to the nice guys who won't speak their truth about their attractions and feelings. I have to say, I wish the author had fleshed out the character of Will a little bit.

I think some other interesting questions are raised. For example, it's easy to see how scheming Penelope is, but let me ask this: is Elizabeth just as scheming as Penelope because she works so hard cultivating the appearance of the Good Girl from an old moneyed family? Her motives (family loyalty, taking care of her mother and sister) may be different from Penelope's motives, but the end result is the same: deceit. All the planning and plotting of the older generations in maintaining appearances and match-making is just as scheming as Penelope just not as obvious. The constrictions of society and of money are both explored here, set amidst the opulence of New York City at the end of the Gilded Age. It is an engaging mystery and an appealing study of manners

The publisher also has a website for the series which includes a map of old Manhattan and a carriage ride marking the sites mentioned in the book:

For fans of this book, a sequel called Rumors: A Luxe Novel has just been released.

Reviewed by Anne

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