Reviewed by Emma Crowley
1925. The war is over and a new generation is coming of age, keen to put the trauma of the previous one behind them.
Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing whose life is dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure; to parties and drinking and staying just the right side of scandal. Lawrence Weston is a struggling artist, desperate to escape the poverty of his upbringing and make something of himself. When their worlds collide one summer night, neither can resist the thrill of the forbidden, the lure of a love affair that they know cannot possibly last.
But there is a dark side to pleasure and a price to be paid for breaking the rules. By the end of that summer everything has changed.
A decade later, nine year old Alice is staying at Blackwood Hall with her distant grandparents, piecing together clues from her mother’s letters to discover the secrets of the past, the truth about the present, and hope for the future.
Many thanks to Simon and Schuster via NetGalley for my copy of The Glittering Hour to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
It has been many years since Iona Grey's stunning début novel Letters to the Lost was published and the wait for book number two seemed to go on and on. As her first book had been such a huge success due to its utter perfection I knew the wait would be more than worth it despite the high expectations I had set for it. At the same time, admittedly, I had a slight sense of trepidation before beginning to read The Glittering Hour as I desperately hoped that magic and unique storytelling spun throughout book one would be present here. Now I can safely say The Glittering Hour was an utter triumph. It is such a beautifully crafted novel one in which you can see the attention to detail, the research and all the emotions so carefully poured into the writing of it by Iona. It more than tugs at your heart strings and I found a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes on more than one occasion. This is a heartbreaking read at times but one you must not hesitate to pick up and read as you become so deeply connected to the main characters in what proves to be an epic story packed full of such honesty, intensity, love and powerful writing that will long linger on in your mind once you have read the last words.
The Glittering Hour opens with an intriguing prologue that instantly has you alert and eager to continue reading on. Iona has this unique ability to captivate you very early on in a book and you are held in the grasp of the story right until the very end. A part of you wants to take things slowly and savour every carefully chosen word as the writing is so lyrical, descriptive and emotive and also the fact I know it could be quite some time before we can read more from this remarkably talented author. Yet another part of me couldn't wait and I wanted to race through the pages as quickly as possible to discover what exactly was going on and why. The prologue had my attention and soon I was deeply lost in the incredible and moving story that was awaiting me with each turn of the page.
In 1936 Alice Carew has been sent to stay with her mother's family home at Blackwood Park. Her mother Selina and father Rupert are away travelling for his job far away in the East in Burma. Alice doesn't really know her mothers family and she feels the days are stretching endlessly ahead of her with very little to do with little or no interaction with her grandmother. But Selina has left a trail of clues behind for her to discover and follow in the hopes it will distract her and help the time go quicker until her parents return. Alice sees this as a challenge but the further she delves into the treasure trail it becomes a way of getting to know more about her mother as there are letters written by her. The past slowly starts to make itself known and will ultimately culminate in a very surprising twist and turn of events. So many questions arise for Alice but will she get the answers she so desperately seeks.
On occasion she also receives letters from Burma where her parents have reached describing all the wonderful and exotic sights and sounds they are experiencing. This somewhat sates Alice's pangs of loneliness but at the same time she longs to be back in her mother's embrace. The focus then shifts back and forth between Alice in 1936 and back to the 1920's to when Selina was young and ran with a crowd in London who embraced the glittering hour, when all things shimmered with promise. They were a wild and reckless bunch having the time of their lives but will their actions have consequences for their future?
Changing back and forth between Alice and Selina's perspectives worked seamlessly. The contrast between the long days at Blackwood for Alice and the exciting parties, events and encounters experienced by Selina were the total opposite of each other and helped develop the two sides of the story. Alice can't comprehend that the mother she now knows was once someone who threw caution to the wind and embraced changes in her life and plans at the drop of a hat. Running alongside Selina were her best friends Flick and Theo who have an extravagant and newsworthy lifestyle packed full of scandal and gossip. Any invitation that comes their way is accepted as soon as it hits the mat, the more wild and carefree the better. Excitement and thrill seeking runs through their veins as much as the alcohol they consume. But this is the time of the Bright Young Things, attracting public attention is a regular occurrence even though it often comes with both amusement and disapproval. Being high spirited and engaging in fun and revelry is de rigour.
Iona captured so perfectly the daring, foolhardy and adventurous spirit of the times, so vastly different from the times we live in today. Such a glamorous picture was painted and the research undertaken must have been so interesting. It certainly made me want to look up more about this time in history. Yet behind it all Selina has her own deep held insecurities which are masked but she must keep going and paper over the cracks. A chance meeting with Lawrence Weston, an impoverished painter sets in motion a chain of events which will have a significant forbearing on the future of all those concerned.
Lawrence is mesmerised by Selina but he knows she is well out of his reach as he is no where near the upper echelons of society and nor will he perhaps ever be. Their differences attracted them to each other but they belong in different worlds. Selina has rules and regulations put in place by her family but partying with her friends is the rebellious nature in her attempting to emerge. She is tired of rigidiness, hypocrisy and control instead she wants to push the boundaries and explore the inner her and if Lawrence can help all the better. She learns to live for the moment, to dismantle her armour against the world. But is she playing by societies rules or rather embracing the changing and shifting attitudes emerging following the war?
The story from this point unfolded at a suitable pace. At times it felt relaxed and I was embracing all that Selina was experiencing, this was in contrast to the fast paced parties and adventures. There were times where I questioned just why Alice in later years was getting such prominence as apart from the letters which did give us an insight I thought she was slightly surplus to requirements at certain points. But I needn't have worried, Iona knew exactly what path she was taking her readers down and all the connections very slowly began to make themselves apparent as did the reasons for everything. When that moment of revelation made itself known I was left gasping in shock and frozen so to speak with the tears gathering. It made me appreciate even more what an astonishing read this was, so carefully constructed as to reel the reader in and have them fully embrace all the goodness and emotions that exist between its pages.
No doubt about it Iona Grey's second book was every bit as good as the first and that is not often the case when trying to write a follow up to a début book that no doubt is destined to become a classic. I can't say one was better than the other as I loved both and couldn't possibly choose. Iona has done it and this compelling and brilliant book deserves to be read by as many people as possible. I only hope we are not left waiting as long for book number three.
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