August 19, 2012

Book Review: Rumors--A Luxe Novel

My reading list is always eclectic but as a rule I avoid romance novels. So it was largely out of boredom that I turned to The Luxe this summer, checking it out from my local library mostly because of the period costume on the cover. I was surprised to find myself unable to put it down even though I had figured out very early into the story what was going to happen at the end. For the Luxe novels are not just novels of romance, though that plays a good part. They are a look at society during the "Gilded Age" of America, when women of wealth were in many ways caged by convention as tightly as by their corsets. However, unlike Edith Wharton's classic books about this time, Godbersen's books do not feel stifling and airless. Perhaps this is because she allows one to glimpse the lifestyles of the lower classes as well as those who rule them. Of course, it could be because she allows her characters to engage in activities that are not all that historically accurate. We know that some girls broke the taboos surrounding sex before marriage, but it is very difficult to believe that every young lady did so. I finished the first novel with mixed feelings but decided to read the next one anyway.
It took a while for it to arrive at my library through the interlibrary loan program, so I have only just finished reading Rumors. My thoughts, as before, are mixed. If you are looking for a reliable, accurate historical novel, this is not it. There are several problems with the historicity of the actions of the characters. The biggest is below.


It is extremely unrealistic that a girl who was so careful to keep up appearances as Elizabeth was would choose to live with a man without marrying him first. They were out West where no one knew them and it would have been perfectly easy to get married without causing a fuss. And yet they have not, apparently just so there can be a hurried wedding (complete with the bride wearing white, which would not have been allowed by a proper mother) at her old home, to make Will's sudden death almost immediately afterward more poignant.


It is unlikely that Diana's unconventional (and often just plain rude) actions would escape scrutiny so often. This was an era when a woman could easily end up in an insane asylum for promiscuous behaviour, after all!

So Rumors is not perfect by any means. However, it is quite engrossing if not exactly a page-turner, and at times full of surprises. The constant gossip and betrayals grow old rather quickly, and Penelope is still almost a cardboard cutout of lust personified. Most interesting to me was the continued story of Lina, the former maid trying to claw her way into high society by whatever means she can get hold of.
It seemed as if the author was preparing for a trite "twist" that would make everything end happily, but there is a real twist for a finale. Be aware that the book ends very much on a "To Be Continued" note--think Gone With the Wind! But unlike Gone with the Wind, there are sequels to Rumors Will I read them? Maybe, if the library happens to get them in and I get bored again. I do not plan to buy them though.

On the whole, I would recommend The first two Luxe Books to older teenagers (and adults) who know better than to behave the way these "mean girls" do and who are looking to be entertained rather than educated by a costume drama. If you enjoy The Luxe series, I would highly recommend trying The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. It is much better written, and the beauty of the language and subtlety of the characters make it a true masterpiece.

For more information see
Rumors by Anna Godbersen

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