Rumours: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen
|Rumours: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen
|Reviewer: Harriet Reed
|Summary: Continuing on from The Luxe, Rumours charts the scandals of six New York socialites and servants in 1899. Shallow characters are balanced by interesting plot lines and good settings.
|Date: January 2009
New York, 1899. In Rumours, this period is one of scandals and secrets, fashion and feuds, all played out behind the stiff mask of the rich Upper Class. Characters - scheming Penelope, passionate Diana, desperate Lina, brooding Henry, honest Will and ex-socialite Elizabeth - are all somehow caught up in this judgemental and glamorous world.
Carrying on from The Luxe, Rumours continues its glossy narrative and dramatic storylines. Each character has travelled a little further since the first book, and their decisions intertwine as the book progresses. Everyone seems to have their own agenda and secrets, yet one of the massive flaws with these books is that it is hard to sympathise with these schemes.
Elizabeth and Will seem only to want a quiet life in the West, but the former remains worried about her family and insists on visiting her ill mother. I would normally empathise with such a decision, but it was hard to care for the character's anguish when neither had much of a personality. Godbersen writes Elizabeth as a saint, with no selfish desires or struggles within her. The character seems content to spend her days in California opening jam jars and learning to cook. She fails to describe any of the harsh realities of moving and living in the West, making Elizabeth's choice to fake her death and move out West on her own seem easy. It should be an enormous decision, to desert your family and, granted, a loveless courtship to chase after a man the reader has had no introduction to.
Penelope was deliciously evil. Her motives and thoughts were much more juicy and gripping than any other character, as she plots to marry Henry Schoonmaker, Elizabeth's jilted fiancée, and fights to the top of the social ladder. I very much look forward to her downfall. However, as with many of other characters, she lacks any depth and she serves only as an antagonist for Diana especially to play off of.
Diana Holland was perhaps my favourite character in the first book, being the rebel whilst sister Elizabeth was the compliant and perfect daughter. I enjoyed her escapades and her burgeoning romance with Henry, as it gave the latter a different side to his character. Unfortunately, in Rumours, Godbersen turns her into a pining and foolish girl, as she waits unendingly for Henry to emerge from the mourning of her sister. I suppose this was intended to be endearing but instead I felt it made her a little irritating. I was waiting for the rebel Diana that had been the only likeable character in The Luxe. However, by the end, she was the only one I felt I could truly sympathise with as things take a turn for the worse, and out of all the characters, she is still the most intriguing and understandable.
Henry himself is potentially a bland character, who is torn between the mourning of his fiancée Elizabeth and his constant duty to marry a rich and suitable lady. However, he is just saved from dullness by his exciting relationship with Diana, which is precarious and one of the only innocent storylines in the books. Towards the end of the book, he is put in an impossible position, and whereas I would have liked a strong and rebellious decision from him, he is limp and resigned.
I find this is the main problem with these characters. They are either in two extremes: defiant enough to break the conventions of society, yet making this seem easy; or sitting content in the trapped position they are in, determined to appear the martyr.
The final main character, Lina Broud, has the most interesting background. As a servant to the Hollands' she grew up in the shadow of Elizabeth and dreamt of the high life. After selling information to Penelope about Elizabeth's affair with Will, whom Lina loves also, she embarks on a new life pretending to be a rich orphan. Lina should be the most gripping character, yet she seems selfish, delusional and deceptive. It is hard to understand some of her motives, as she betrays friends and continues to lie to assure her rise to the top. I found myself dreading her passages in the book.
One thing in Anna Godbersen's favour is the lavish description of turn-of-the-century New York, with its lavish costumes, audacious houses and elaborate parties. You can almost hear the swish of expensive silk and the cool marble of the Hayes' residence. It makes a suitable backdrop for the drama occurring around it.
The chapters can be a little too short, and the decisions and actions are usually written in the character's heads. This leaves little dialogue, which occasionally can make the narrative a little stodgy. Especially in scenes of great drama, more highly charged conversations would raise the tension.
However, there are some real moments of drama as the novel warms up, and especially towards the end I was shocked by some sudden events. It ends with a cliff-hanger to surely lead on to the third Luxe novel, Envy. Though it has many flaws, I can't help wanting to read Anna Godbersen's next novel after such a suitably dramatic ending.
Thank you to the publishers for the book.
If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Beautiful Americans by Lucy Silag.
You can read more book reviews or buy Rumours: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Rumours: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen at Amazon.com.
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