I don’t recall where I first came across Beth Gutcheon – her books aren’t easy to find in the UK – but I’m guessing it must have been one of those “if you like this” features on Amazon. I must have liked the look of her books – I have Still Missing and The New Girls already on my bookshelves. But at long last I’ve got round to reading one of her books, Gossip, recently released in the UK – and I hope we’ll be seeing the release of her back catalogue to follow, because this one was thoroughly excellent.
The narrator is Loviah (“Lovie”) French who runs a small dress shop in Manhattan catering for an exclusive clientele. The story begins in her boarding school days, where she first encounters the other two main characters – Avis, a little older than her and a little restrained, now working as an art buyer, and the irrepressible and sometimes acerbic Dinah, a newspaper columnist. Avis and Dinah have history – a relatively insignificant social faux pas that has shaped their perceptions of each other – and Lovie forms a bridge and buffer between her two very different friends. The book follows the lives of the three women from boarding school days, through family and personal dramas for all three of them, covering a period from the 1960s to post 9/11, and is a really absorbing read.
Lovie is a fascinating character – she has her own secrets, which emerge as the story progresses, and tells the story in a flowing style which directly addresses the reader as if you too are fortunate enough to be her friend. There is much sadness through the pages, dreadful betrayal, lives destroyed, cruelty through speech and action, but also a light and gentle humour. Essentially a story about enduring female friendship, vividly portrayed with a depth of domestic and social detail, the book illustrates the ways in which information about others can sometimes be used to destroy them.
The main criticism I’ve seen elsewhere of this book is that it’s “too American”, and that absolutely amazes me. This is a book firmly anchored in its setting, a richly drawn background with an astonishing depth of detail, and a world with social rights and wrongs on which the twists and turns of the story depend. I found that quite fascinating.
A clever and immensely readable book, and I do hope we’ll be seeing Beth Gutcheon’s books becoming more readily available here as word about this one spreads.
Find out more about Beth Gutcheon and her books on her website