Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Mae Fanning seizes on a job at a tiny, exclusive Boston antiques shop as the fresh start she desperately needs. It opens a window to new world, one peopled with rare and rich characters. But the day that enigmatic socialite Diana van der Laar walks in, Mae’s hidden past returns.
As a moth to a flame, Mae is unable to resist Diana’s heady, seductive glamour and glittering life. Yet, like the rare objects in the shop, very little is what it appears – Diana included.
Moving from Jazz-Age New York to Boston in the grip of the Great Depression, Rare Objects is a rich and gripping story of what it means to reach for a braver, bolder life.
Last year Kathleen Tessaro was a delightful discovery for me when I read and loved The Perfume Collector so when I saw she had a new release Rare Objects I was keen to discover would I enjoy this book as much? Unfortunately I found this one to be a bit of a mixed bag for me. I adore historical fiction as I love nothing more than delving back into the past to uncover a time and place vastly different from the world we live in today. Sadly I found this book to be a bit hit and miss, there were parts that were excellent and really held my interest and attention but then others became either too confusing with the reader expected to read between the lines and understand things going on even though they had never been said or else parts had nothing much happening at all. In The Perfume Collector there was a real sense of uncovering the truth and an air of mystery and I didn't really get that with this new book. Yes there was a twist towards the end but I had guessed as to what one of them was some time before and I wasn't that surprised even if it made other aspects of the story slot into place. The story could have been excellent but in my opinion and I am always reluctant in saying this regarding any book as I appreciate the time, effort and research that goes into writing a novel it was only average and had the potential to be a whole lot more.
Rare Objects is set in America during the 1930's, a time of true hardship and struggles for the people of America as The Great Depression had its grip firmly placed on all aspects of society. Well apart from the rich people featured in this book who seem to splash the cash around as if there was no tomorrow. We are introduced to Mae (Maeve) Fanning recently returned from New York to her home city of Boston. She had left Boston in what she would term as a blaze of glory looking for work in the city that never sleeps - New York but why has Mae returned to Boston when it was all she could do to escape her hum drum existence in a small poky flat with her Irish emigrant mother? They didn't have the luxuries others enjoyed instead struggling to eek out food over several meals. Mae's father had died before she was born in fact he died even before her mother had left Ireland for the U.S. Her mother Nora went ahead with her plans to emigrate and years later she may not have achieved the American dream but life is somewhat better than it would have been had she stayed in Ireland. Nora works in the alterations department of a top class Boston department store but is constantly overlooked for a sales position. Throughout the book she seemed quite down and out and that feeling spread to her daughter for some points. Mae has a black cloud hanging over her after events in New York and the reader is given a glimpse into what she experienced that led to her abrupt turnaround into coming home. She had been living a life that has turned into a lie with big consequences. The scenes here were powerful and well written and I really felt the sense of hopelessness and depression consuming Mae but also the feeling of being terrified and alone. She believes she is the wrong place and things should not have worked out the way they did. She needs to get out but then she meets a very surprising character someone who you would not expect to find in a place of this nature.
The woman in question seems to be a young girl of high standing who herself feels there is no need for her to be occupying a place like this. It's not for people of her class and truly there is nothing wrong with her either in body or mind. Mae is taken with this woman but will she ever meet her again on the outside. On returning to Boston Mae has to seek work and here the book did take off a bit and I became interested as we see that she is not a person to be bound by convention placed upon women by society nor by the constraints of her family and living situation. It's clear she has bigger and better things she wants from life believing a run down apartment with an ordinary job is not for her. In her own opinion she is destined for riches and a good man and life but is she really? 'I would like nothing better than to be somewhere new, where people weren't so bound by convention and narrow minded ideas of right and wrong, good and evil'. Through her sheer thinking and a stroke of ingenuity on Mae's part she finds herself employed at Winshaw and Kessler purveyors of Fine Art, Rare Objects and Antiques and a whole new world is opened up for the young girl with big dreams. The scenes set in the antiques shop were really interesting as I suppose it was the history lover coming out in me. There was an air of mystery as to the whereabouts of Mr.Winshaw but when he does appear he becomes a confident or someone to look up to for Mae. Even if she doesn't always listen to what he is trying to say.Mae seemed a different person from the girl who lived in New York but she still hadn't reach the pinnacle of her aspirations. But all that was about to change with the return of a familiar face one which she had never expected to see again.
Through the antique shop Mae meets Diana Van Der Laar a woman who has wealth beyond compare and throws money away as if it is going out of fashion. Mae almost became like a young puppy enthral to a new owner. She is totally taken over by Diana and feels like her dreams are coming true but her addictive nature still makes its presence known. To my mind Diana became involved in a world that was totally out of her league she was taken along for a ride as a willing passenger but didn't realise the journey could stop at any moment and she could be tossed out. Mae seemed to view Diana almost like one of the Rare Objects that were to be found in the shop. It was almost as if she couldn't believe she had become part of this society that she had idolised for so long and everything just seemed to go to her head. There was a dangerous game being played by all concerned and someone was bound to get hurt. This quote accurately sums up Diana' She wore her beauty and wit with the same easy confidence with which she wore her black veiled hat- at a jaunty, slightly dangerous angle'. Diana seemed to treat people like playthings and although Mae had been warned she finds herself becoming ever deeper embroiled with Diana and her family with brother James also making an appearance. Diana became almost like a drug to Mae - something she needed in her life and when it was gone she would come crashing down. Both characters had addictive personalities that could only led to self destruction, harm and hurt for all involved. 'That's Diana for you! She collects people takes over their lives. But she lives in a world of her own creation. Sometimes it's harmless. But other times it has terrible consequences'.
Rare Objects came across overall as being disjointed, there was no flow to the book and despite the characters being intriguing and in my opinion seriously messed up there was no solid storyline instead we had to read far too much between the lines. A lot did go over my head and I found myself rereading pages to check had I missed on vital parts of information which would help in my overall understanding. What this book did highlight was the undisputed distinction between the classes even in depression times as the descriptions of the lavish wealth enjoyed by Diana were in stark contrast to the neighbourhood Mae resided in. Mae herself was messed up deeply on an emotional level and I believe she reached far too high out of her comfort zone. All she ever wanted was wealth, privilege and beauty but being exposed to this she realises despite their riches the upper classes don't have it so easy either that there is always a lot more going on behind closed doors than outward appearances would have you believe.
There were a few surprises and revelations thrown in towards the end but they all came a little too quickly as if the author knew the book had to be finished and therefore they didn't have that wow impact I would normally have expected. After so many high periods and then times which were just boring and stalled the book my confusion had grown and I wasn't that interested in the secrets to be revealed. I am glad I gave this book a go as I had loved the last story and if I hadn't I would have always been left wondering but in future I mightn't rush straight out to read something else from this author.
I'd like to thank Harper Collins for this review copy of Rare Objects which we received via NetGalley.