I’m thoroughly delighted today to share my review of The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey: published today by Simon & Schuster, it’s now available in hardback, for kindle and as an audiobook, but those of you needing a paperback copy will need to wait until October. My thanks to the publishers for providing my e-copy for review, via netgalley.
Whenever anyone presses me to name my all-time favourite book, my answer is almost always Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost: I still think that book was absolute perfection, and you’ll find my review here (and if you haven’t read it, I’d really urge you to do so). And then I was absolutely thrilled to be at the RNA awards when it was named as the 2016 Romantic Novel of the Year: I suspect there were very few people in the room who disagreed with that decision.
But that was 2016, and then we waited for her next… and waited… and waited some more. For very good personal reasons, this latest book has been a very long time coming – but often the very best things prove to be well worth waiting for.
The epic and long-awaited new romance from the author of Letters to the Lost, winner of the RNA Award.
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.
Should I write a review from the heart, do you think? Might that be a bit too gushing? If it is, my apologies, but this book was absolutely everything I hoped it would be – and then probably a little more.
The prologue to this book drew me in instantly – entitled “The End”, a picture coming slowly into focus with enigmatic mentions of missing faces on the walls, the kitbag propped against the table leg, the wedding dress hanging elsewhere, and the lover turned to for the very last time. I already had a lump in my throat – and reading on, I barely surfaced for air until the book’s end.
This is a dual timeline story, the first set in 1925, and Selina is one of the Bright Young People: she lives a life of joy, excess, and post war hedonism – to the horror of her family who tire of seeing her photograph in the papers together with accounts of her latest escapade. And then, quite by chance, while taking part in a treasure hunt, she meets Lawrence Weston – an impoverished artist eking a living by painting portraits of those lost during the war, but who takes every possible opportunity to indulge his passion for photography.
It’s the beginning of an immensely powerful and convincing love story, and one that fills you with absolute joy as they spend a glorious secret summer together – but then goes on to shatter your heart into so many pieces.
The other thread, set ten years later, is the story of nine year old Alice, awaiting the return of her mother – Selina – from a long overseas trip, having been left in the not-so-tender care of her austere grandparents. Her days are brightened only by her mother’s letters, sent to her in secret – they present Alice with clues for her own treasure hunt, and the full story of the past is slowly revealed. It’s an ingenious structure that works exceptionally well, as the story then moves beyond the present into the uncertain future.
The recreation of the historical background is perfectly judged – the depth of research evident, but judiciously used to bring the book’s eras to life. In 1925 we have the relief and release of having survived the wartime years, the cult of youth, the changing fashions, and that hangover from earlier years of duty, obligation and the expectations of society: the 1930s gently introduce the rise of fascism, always in the background, but just sufficient to anchor the story in its period. The settings are wonderful too, particularly around the family home of Beechcroft – its driveway, gardens and surroundings, seen through the changing seasons with the eye of an artist in all the small detail.
This book is beautifully written – the author is a very accomplished story teller – and the sureness of her emotional touch took my breath away and made me ache inside. The characters are wonderfully drawn – satisfyingly complex, and there are those you grow to love quite desperately, as you watch their lives unfold before you.
There are moments of sheer joy, but there are others of almost unbearable sadness: you might, like me, even need to put the book down from time to time. But you read on, wiping away the many tears, desperate to continue, and have the absolute joy of discovering an end that is so very uplifting, with real hope for the future.
I really don’t need to say “one of my books of the year”, do I? Everything I love to read, all drawn together in the most perfect way, and worth every moment of that long wait – don’t miss this one, whatever you do.
About the author
Iona Grey has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters.