Will friendship overcome the social boundaries of Edwardian London in this bestselling historical tale perfect for fans of Audrey Niffenegger and Sarah Waters.
One cold January morning, in the wake of Queen Victoria's death, two young sets of eyes meet across the graves at Highgate Cemetery.
One pair belongs to smartly dressed Lavinia Waterhouse, whose mother clings to the traditional values she sees slipping away; the other to Maude Coleman, whose mother longs to escape the stifling grip of Victorian society.
Thrust together by the girls' friendship, these two very different families embark on a new century that promises electricity, emancipation and other changes that will shake the very foundations of their lives.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 416 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 03/07/2006
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780007217236
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.
Review by tututhefirst
This novel (a New York Times Bestseller in 2001) is a sweeping period piece of the stratified society of London in 1906, just as Queen Victoria dies, and the Edwardian age is ushered in. Set against a backdrop of the Women's Suffrage movement, it is essentially the story of two young girls (in today's parlance they'd be BFFs) who live next door to each other. The story is eloquently told from the voices of nine different characters, with additional ample views of three others. Ordinarily, that would be about 8 points of view too many, but Chevalier makes it work in a glorious way. We watch as time goes by for: Maud Coleman - the only child of Kitty and Richard, serious, intelligent, and subconsciously understanding that many of the rules of Victorian England are essentially meaningless and best left behind. She longs for a friend and finds one inLavinia (Vinnie) Waterhouse - the devil may care (but only if carefully constrained within the bounds of proper society) oldest child of Gertrude and Albert. She also longs for a friend (while trying desperately to shed herself of her hanging on younger--but much wiser--sister Ivy May.) Maud and Lavinia meet in the cemetery where they discover their family graves are next to each other. Lavinia even writes a 'book' about the proper way for a lady to get through formal mourning. That section alone is a treasure. Together Maud and Vinnie spend many an afternoon scampering through the graveyard where they meetSimon Field - the young gravedigger who, with his father, spends his life watching the comings and going of all levels of society and gains the wisdom to see that in the end, everybody ends up under the ground. Simon gives us (and the girls) a grounding in reality, and is able to go where the 'proper ladies' can't. He sees much, hears much, knows much, and manages to keep most of it to himself, until the knowledge needs to be shared.Kitty Coleman - the restless and disenchanted wife of Richard, mother of Maud. She was traumatized by childbirth, and further shocked to the core of her being when, during a New Year's house party, her husband engages in, and insists that she does also, what is today known as 'wife swapping'. Her withdrawal from him (and from life in general) is brutal and substantial. Only later will she recover and join the Women's Suffrage movement, risking all to play out her desire for personal freedom.Richard Coleman - a proper English gentleman of the era. He knows nothing about anything going on in his household (that is a woman's domain) and cares only for cricket, star-gazing, and doing exactly what he is told to do by his motherEdith Coleman - a grand dame of staggering (and perhaps swaggering?) mien....she causes her son, her daughter-in-law, and her granddaughter to kow-tow to whatever she says is 'proper' and refuses to hear of any other way of doing things. Even the Coleman's cook threatens to quit whenever Edith appears on the doorstep. Her most egregious act comes when she tries (over the objections of Kitty and Maud and Mrs. Baker the cook) to dismissJenny Whitby - the maid. Jenny's story gives us the other side of the coin. Young girl with no education, no dowry, no prospects, living in poverty who comes to the big city to go 'into service' in exchange for room, board, and a few coins to send home to her starving family. No SPOILERS, but her story is central.Gertrude and Arthur Waterhouse - the gentle couple who live next door to the Colemans. Their financial circumstances are not as good as (nor would Edith Coleman allow that their blood lines are either) their neighbors. Gertrude tries to follow society's dictates, tries to keep a rein on Vinnie - but can't help spoiling her--and actually detests the Colemans and what they stand for. Arthur is simply grateful to be able to play cricket with Richard on Sunday afternoon, and happy that his wife and daughters have suitable family companions in the ladies next door.When all these stories are spun together in the setting of the cemetery with the Suffragette Movement providing excitement,and the Cemetery "Guvner" John Jackson providing a humanizing and humane personna, it is a riveting and poignant story. What happens to these women and how their actions influence and impact one another is in many ways the universal story of sisterhood, in others the never-ending story of sin and a chance for redemption. Whether redemption occurs is left to the reader to discover.
Review by RubyScarlett
Very odd atmosphere, characters and writing. Chevalier has always written books which seem just short of fantastic to me and my main complaint has always been that they feel unrealistic (the mixture of political events and common people, I suppose), forced, and cold. This is no exception. Though Maude is a lovely character, I was never sure what on earth the author was trying to say about the suffragette movement and why she chose to portray it in such a way. Again, there's always an area that's more or less related to women in her books (in that only women are interested in in Remarkable Creatures it's fossils, in The Runaway it's quilting)- here, it was death, and the Victorian obsession with mourning. It wasn't void of interest but she could have done so much more with it and I found that by the end I hadn't learned much more than I already knew. Bizarre book. It feels really unaccomplished.