Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: Gilded Age by Claire McMillan

Gilded Age by Claire McMillan is a retelling of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth set in contemporary Cleveland. It explores the boundaries created by social obligation and hierarchy and how they persist even though in modern times. There is a cast of old money descendants approaching middle age and attending all the "right" social events while they play out the social pecking order of their ancestors. The star, however, is Ellie Hart who has recently returned to Cleveland from NYC after a failed marriage and stint in rehab.  Ellie is looking to remake and legitimize herself in Cleveland society and she leverages all her charms in that effort. Navigating high society is not easy and as it takes it toll on Ellie it is unclear whether she will completely unravel under the scrutiny of Cleveland society.

The novel is alternately narrated by Ellie and an unnamed female character who grew up with Ellie in Cleveland and, like Ellie, went to NY and has returned to Cleveland. This character is a calming influence on the more flighty Ellie and offers interesting commentary on the Cleveland social scene. She worries about Ellie's flings with Cleveland's society men some of whom are single and some who are married - she worries about the flings' impact on Ellie's reputation and emotions.  However, she also fears Ellie a little - she watches Ellie's easy way with her husband and wonders whether he can resist her charms.  At the same time, she is also going through her own transition - she is pregnant and, though excited about her upcoming addition, she also seems to question the move to full time homemaker and what that says about her modern sensibilities.

My Thoughts
A story about high society romantic liaisons may seem frivolous and certainly has the potential to be one dimensional.  Gilded Age, however, is nothing like that.  The society maneuvers fade to the background as the characters and their vulnerabilities are explored. In addition, there is a theme of social commentary weaved throughout the novel which is reminiscent of the classic it retells - Wharton's House of Mirth. The book is more subtle than a "society romp" would imply.

At times, however, the book is almost too subtle and the subtlety creates a distance between the reader and the characters. It felt as if parts of the book needed to be driven a bit more by plot in order to keep it moving.  Those parts, however, are by far the minority and I did enjoy this intelligent society "romp".  If you enjoy stories about class and society life, especially with a modern sensibility, pick this book up.

I received an unsolicited copy of this book for review from the publisher

9 comments:

  1. I think I would enjoy the social commentary of this book.

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  2. Would you look at that gorgeous cover? And the story sounds wonderful as well (I do love Wharton) so it's getting added to my list. :-)

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  3. Not quite sure if it is for me but I'm loving that cover.

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  4. Hi there, the October edition of Books You Loved is live. Here is the link Books You Loved October Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

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  5. Thanks for linking this in to Books You Loved: October. If you pop back in a day or so there will be even more good book links to check out. Have a great week.

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  6. This sounds very good....thanks.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books I Loved Post.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    http://silversolara.blogspot.com

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  7. Forgot....New Follower.

    Very nice blog design.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    http://silversolara.blogspot.com

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