Sometimes you just want escapism. Anna Godberson's The Luxe is the literary equivalent of champagne and truffles. The Luxe is the first of a series of novels set among the elite in turn of the 20th century New York. It is the late Victorian Era version of Gossip Girl. And I, for one, loved it. The Luxe is faintly reminiscent of the regency novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. The dialog is not nearly as witty, of course, and the characters are decidedly more risque in their behavior, but it does give you a bit of the same feel. The book is filled with ballrooms and expensive dresses, arranged marriages and carriage rides, and the pressures of family duty.
The Luxe begins with Elizabeth Holland's funeral (though her body, after a fall into the river, has not been found). Chapter 1 then steps backward in time by three weeks, and begins the chronicle of events leading up to the funeral. Pampered sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland learn that their family fortunes have taken a decided turn for the worse. Elizabeth, the older and more responsible of the two, is pressured by her mother to marry well, and quickly. Wealthy playboy Henry Schoonmaker, in the midst of a flirtation with bad girl Penelope Hayes, is pressured by his father to marry Elizabeth, Penelope's friend and rival. Further complicating matters are an affair with a servant, an impossible love affair, and multiple friends who feel betrayed. All in all, it's the stuff of a decadent turn of the century romance novel.
It's funny that the book is so engaging, in a way, because not one of the characters is completely likeable. Penelope is vain and manipulative. Henry is lazy and a womanizer. Elizabeth is aloof and a bit judgmental. Diana is irresponsible and overly melodramatic. And yet, they seem to be products of their time and their place in society, and one feels a sneaking sympathy for each of them. Godberson shifts the viewpoint between the characters, letting us see how each one thinks, and what they think of one another. This shifting viewpoint in particular helps the reader to understand the way that Elizabeth and Diana misunderstand one another (and we all know that misunderstanding is central to conflict in these sorts of society dramas).
Here are a couple of passages to give you a feel for the book:
"But it was the first time Henry had ever really thought about someone doing that soul-crushing thing called working, and the realization still haunted him." (Page 51, paperback)
"His hand moved from her neck down her spine and rested again at the small of her back. The way Will was looking at her made her feel like she had lain in the sun for a whole afternoon. For the first time all day she felt her lungs swell with air and her heart with happiness. She tried to remind herself, with a stern shake of a finger, that they had no kind of future. (Page 141)
What I can tell you is that when I finished The Luxe, all I wanted to do was pick up the second book, Rumors, immediately. This is always a good sign (though it in part reflects that fact that several loose ends are left hanging). I recommend The Luxe for teens and adults, primarily women, who are looking for an escapist read. The Luxe offers love and lies, romance and betrayal, set against a backdrop of balls, morning visits, and carriage rides. I fully intent to read the next two books in the series. (Rumors is out in hardcover, Envy is due out in January.)
Publication Date: September 23, 2008
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Chicklish, BookEnvy, The Book Brat, Readergirl Reviews, Bookshelves of Doom
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© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.