18 April 2008

Hangover Handmaiden

Gawker predicted Anna Godbersen's THE LUXE would be the next big young-adult series to be adapted for TV, a la GOSSIP GIRL. In the first book, which came out last fall (and which was blurbed by G.G. author Cecily von Ziegesar), the teenage daughters of Manhattan elite smoke, drink and shop, making regular appearances in the city's gossip columns and fighting over the same handful of boys. The difference between Blair Waldorf (of G.G.) and Elizabeth Holland of THE LUXE? The latter book is set in 1899.

It's a gimmick, but it works. Godbersen's prose style is hardly Whartonian but she transforms the voice of "Gossip Girl" the website into the ornate styling of a society reporter, salacious IMs into notes sent through the servants' network and loud clubs into supposedly genteel balls. (One of my favorite parts is the description of the days after balls, when the girls' parents would go to church and they would draw all the shades and ring for buckets of ice water. No Advil or restorative brunches back then.)

Of course, these girls have slightly more at stake than their contemporary counterparts. As the book opens, a funeral is being held for Elizabeth, who vanished and is presumed dead after a carriage ride with her best friend, the "new-money" heiress Penelope. Flashback to a few months earlier: Elizabeth and her very contrary sister Diana have just discovered their father's death left their family practically penniless; they have their Gramercy Park address and their name, but not much else. To secure the family, the widow Holland has arranged a match between her and Henry Schoonmaker, an unrepentant gadfly whose father is running for mayor and wants his son to appear respectable for it. Will they go through with the match even though they're both in love with other people? Will Elizabeth's maid, Lina, keep her secrets about the handsome man her mistress is seeing? Will anyone vomit in public? The answer to one of these questions is yes.

As with GOSSIP GIRL I easily tore through this book in a day; I might even read it again before the release of the second book in the series, RUMORS (coming in June, but Laura at Pinot and Prose has already read it). Sadly it won't be out in paperback till after summer-reading season, but if you enjoy Gilded Age literature and a whiff of scandal, pick it up.

Image of THE LUXE cover: HarperCollins. JacketWhys points out a trend in ball gowns on book covers.

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