*I received this book from NetGalley in return for a fair review.*
by Rebecca S. Buck
Date: January 18 2016
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
Read: January 28 to January 29 2016
I think Evelyn, the main character in this book, would be about 115 if she was still alive today (17 in 1918, 26 in 1927). Just a random passing thought I had while the book was winding down.
This is the first book that I’ve read by this author. And the second book that involved lesbians living and doing stuff in the 1920s (this one specifically 1927). Though the other book I had read with that setting and theme was set in the USA. Both involved however distantly one or the other might be from the action, both have some vague connection to celebrities and theater people.
Shakespeare wrote three types of plays, Tragedies, Comedies, and Histories. The tragedies had moments of comic relief, and the comedies had bits of tragedy mixed in as well. While the histories, well, I don’t know what to say about them – they were the plays based on real life people – kings and Julius Caesar and the like.
I note this so that I can then say: the first lesbian book I read involving lesbians in the 1920s was a Comedy. This book here is Drama. Hmms. Oops. I mean, Romeo and Juliet was a Tragedy. Macbeth was a Tragedy. You know what happened at the end of them? Lots of death. Well, death really didn’t play a part in that other 1920s book, and while it played a part in this book, it occurred prior to this books beginning. This is the aftermath of a tragedy. What happens after lots and lots of people die. Hence my calling this a drama instead of a tragedy. Because the tragedy already happened, and now people are trying to live after that fact.
Hmms. Now that I look, this book is set in 1927, later than I had thought, while that other book? Set in 1931. Right so . . . not the 1920s. mmphs. That other book being The Seduction of Moxie
The book contains two points of views, though Evelyn’s POV appears to be much larger than Jos’s. Might even be something like 80/20. 80% Evelyn, I mean.
Evelyn Hopkins is a young woman from the countryside of England, the southwest peninsula, specifically Devon. Well, more specifically I believe the name given was something like West Combe in Devon, though, looking at a map, I don’t see said place. Though I do see a Woolacombe, and an Llfracombe, and a Salcombe in Devon. Oh look, there’s a Widecombe as well. And a Sutcombe, which is, oddly, in the north of Devon. And a Combe Martin. Whatever Combe is, there sure are a hell of a lot of them.
Right, sorry, I should probably just look it up (West Coombe; so I was both right and wrong. Odd how all the Combe’s on the map are listed as Combe not Coombe; well it’s West Coombe, at least, at the 89% mark). I’m doing something that I sometimes do – putting thoughts down when I’m about 90, 95% of the way to being completed. Not sure why. Ooh, there’s a Wiveliscombe also. Dang it, I need to close this map. Hehe.
Okay – Evelyn is a young woman from the southeast part of England. I think, and I could very well be wrong with this, but I think that she’s about 26. She’s not ‘modern day’ 26, though. No, she’s a product of her generation and place. Pulled from school at 14 to help her parents in their shop, while her brother gets to remain at school. Whimpering as her brother heads off to war, making a promise to ‘fly’, to, if her brother dies, to go to London. And if he doesn’t, they’ll go together. So that they can fly high. To a certain extent, the worst case scenario occurs – something of a holding pattern. Worse case in being freed to ‘fly’ or make true on the promise, at least. Brother Edward is pronounced MIA by the gov't (assumed dead because so many who are MIA end up being DIA). Months (is it only months?) later news arrivals that a fella who is badly damaged, didn’t have any identification, and couldn’t talk finally was able to convey who he was. He was Edward. So, shell-shocked badly damaged Edward returns home. Limping. Battered, bruised, barely able to occasionally utter a few whispers that might be words.
Years pass. Eventually Eddie thrusts a letter into Evie’s hands. And, through his limited means, and her ability to interpret him, learns that Edward wants Evelyn to head to London to deliver the letter. It’s a letter from Edward’s friend from the war – who had entrusted it to Edward’s hands. It’s been something like 5 years later, so it’s vaguely awkward. With certain coaxing, Evelyn is off to London, by herself, on a train.
I’d normally leave all that for a plot section, but I included it here to try to convey something of where Evelyn is coming from. Her innocence, determination, something of a ‘women’s place is this’ (in the home, not in school, etc), combined with something of a strong backbone.
Evelyn arrives in London and finds . . . two people who are important to the story, but not romantically.
Lillian Grainger and James Grainger are the brother and sister of Frank, the fella whose letter Evelyn carries to London. Once the letter is delivered, they invite her to stay in London with them. Lillian and James live in an expensive house in an expensive part of London, Mayfair. And Evelyn knows that, in any other circumstances, her place would be more with Grace – the servant in the house. Lillian is very vain, and in another era I’d call her an attention whore. In the 1920s I’ll just call her . . . vain. She cares more about clothing, fashion, being modern, being free, while at the same time ‘looking right’. She’s also a singer in a jazz club – to add to her comfortable place in society (and her vast wealth). James is less enamored with the social side of ‘modern’ times, but deeply enamored with the business side – he’s an architect and just loves building ‘modern’ stuff. He’s mostly off at work, though, so his part in the story is less than it might be. Though he seems to have developed quite a crush on Evelyn, though. Both Lillian and James look down on those abnormal ‘inverts’ (James word for lesbians). James seeming to be slightly more aggressive in his disdain about ‘them’.
Friends & or lovers: Dorothy is friends with Lillian, and to a certain extent with James. Vernon, Jos’s brother, is friends and lovers with Lillian, and disliked by James.
Enemies: Neither like Jos. James doesn’t like Jos’ brother Vernon.
Joselyn ‘Jos’ Singleton is the other person in this book who has their point of view expressed. Though only about 20% of the book is from Jos’s point of view. If I was doing this as some movies list credits, as in ‘in order of appearance’, technically I should have started with Jos. Because the book opens with a 1916 prologue involving Jos hiding under a table while bombs drop during WWI. Book occurs years later in the ‘20s, though. Jos works in the theatre, mostly as a ‘background’ type – building sets, moving things around, and the like. Oh, and she’s openly (as openly as she can be) a lesbian. Jos is something of a player, someone who doesn’t want nor need commitment. Mostly because of her back story and how she fears to trust and love someone because she expects failure and heartbreak.
Friends & or Lovers: several lesbians are friends of Jos, including Clara and Courtney (a couple), and others. Also friends with Jos is, strangely enough, Dorothy.
Something like Enemies: Lillian.
The book follows a young woman from somewhat rural and relatively poor and backwards England to London in the 1920s, after the first world war. The war that killed many of their generation. They live to forget, to remember, to live as if every moment counts, as if no moment counts and it can all be taken away in a blast. Not all fought in the war, but almost all are somewhat ‘shell-shocked’ from the traumatic experience. At least in London.
The young woman, Evelyn, arrives in London and presents a letter from a dead brother to that brother’s siblings – Lillian and James. They offer to allow Evelyn to stay and see the sights in London. Lillian shows Evelyn around to several locations, like Buckingham Palace, and to a jazz club wherein Lillian sings (and wherein Evelyn sees Jos for the first time, and, for that matter, lesbians).
The story unfolds with Evelyn, as much as she can what with her feeling somewhat trapped and under obligations in James & Lillian’s house, exploring the city of London. And, eventually, her feelings for another woman, specifically Jos.
By the very nature of this book – the times people live in, the openness/closedness of society, and other considerations, and specifically the nature of the lead character – a poor-ish young woman who basically ran away from home (at 26) to see London – the romance is at a slow pace. On one level. And at an accelerated pace in another. Also because of the nature of the time and people involved.
At a slow pace because Evelyn can’t see Jos as often as she might wish to do so. Especially after she sees Jos for the first time, and they have a brief conversation. She’s obligated, apparently, to wait on Lillian and her inviting Evie to the jazz club. So, days, weeks, time passes while feelings are examined, as needs develop.
The accelerated pace involves the action that occurs once people can actually be near each other – though, I suppose, Jos and Evelyn could have ‘done’ each other in the bathroom at the nightclub. No, by accelerated pace, I mean . . . well, I’ve been attempting to say what I mean, but I guess I can’t. Potentially. Hell, I don’t know. What is and what isn’t a spoiler mystifies me. They have sex on their first date
The opening of the book, the stuff after the prologue, was written in a way that I probably wouldn’t have continued if not for the fact I had kind of already committed to reading this book. It was overly wordy, overly melodramatic. It was . . . well, what I just said.
I don’t know if things changed, or if I had just fallen into a trance and dove in. Because somewhere along the line, I just moved past all that wordiness, that melodramatic way of talking, and just lived the book.
And this book surprised me. It was a lot deeper than I expected. Emotions were touched. Thoughts were had. Though I first noticed this not in the romance part, but in world part. In the people, times, the ‘generation that had to live after so many died’ part. Though I rather liked both Jos and Evelyn. And I wasn’t sure I would like Evelyn in the beginning, but I did, I really did.
Overall I’d give this book 5.0 out of 5 stars.
January 29 2016