Monday, August 6, 2012
The Age of Desire
Pamela Dorman Books, 2012
Adult Historical Fiction
Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I have been discovering that I love historical fiction centered around a real person. In this case the person is acclaimed author Edith Wharton, whose books I adore. But I didn't know much about her real life so I was excited to catch a glimpse through this book.
...I kind of wish I hadn't. About all I knew beforehand was that she was part of New York's upper-class, hence the fact that she wrote acclaimed stories about them like The House of Mirth (haven't read yet) and The Age of Innocence (have read). What I didn't know was that she had an affair with a journalist, learning what passionate love could be about after years living a repressed existence with a man whose intellect was beneath hers. I really really need to get better at reading the synopsis because I'm sure this affair was mentioned and it could have served as a warning to me to steer clear: I don't usually like books featuring infidelity and it tends to render the main character extremely unsympathetic as it did in this case.
More promising was the relationship of Edith and her right-hand woman Anna who began as a governess but now serves as Edith's typist/secretary and early critic. Anna, like me, is horrified by Edith's new "friendship" and that forms the bulk of their conflict which leads to Anna traveling and leaving Edith without her trusty secretary while Anna pines for the old relationship she had with Edith.
Another wrench in their life is managing the swinging moods of Edith's husband Teddy who suffered from acute depression. His highs and lows frighten everyone around him and leave them on pins and needles. Although he is an unpredictable presence, the parts with the husband were some of my favorites. This is mostly because he was more active but also because I didn't feel much for Edith who receives far more page time than Anna as the famous person. I was able to feel much sympathy for him and his devotion to Edith, which made me think of this quote (I've never seen it attributed to anyone in particular): "Just because somebody doesn't love you the way you want them to, doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have." Although not her intellectual equal, the picture painted of Teddy is of a decent man who should not have married Edith and whose mental problems did him in.
Unfortunately there is not as much about Teddy but there is plenty about Edith and her foolish longings for the journalist (who is kind of a gigolo) as well as some depictions of her famous friends like Henry James, a welcome presence.
Overall: Adultery renders main character intolerable to this reader. But the writing is quite good and I was able to read this book fairly quickly.
Cover: I do like this cover (which features a pretty dress in a gorgeous cover-how I love those!)