A bit of a guilty pleasure (4.5 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Headline Review, this edition dated 2006
Paperback edition- 804 pages
At this point in time I’m looking for purely escapist, entertaining reading, which is fortunately something that a Penny Vincenzi novel offers in spades. This one in particular is a huge tome of a book and has kept me busy for a good few days, a story that I have enjoyed it thoroughly on my commute to and from work and during my lunch hour when I’ve had plenty of time to dip in and out of it.
In the same vein as a Jackie Collins or Danielle Steel (back in her good days, that is!), a Vincenzi novel offers scandal, family secrets and racy romance. This one I appreciated in particular as it focuses on a prominent American family through several generations and moves between a genteel English countryside setting and a palatial manor house, to the faster pace of Wall Street and London and the hustle and bustle of a 1980’s stock market. Originally published in the early 1990’s, a couple of aspects of this book did feel a bit dated in parts, but I still loved every single racy twist and turn and enjoyed meeting a large cast of characters, some of whom I ultimately came to hate.
Based around the renowned banking family, the Praegers’, we are introduced to Virginia Praeger, who at twenty-one falls in love with Alexander Caterham, an English Earl. Decades later it seems that their love story isn’t quite such a fairytale, as Virginia has three children, none of whom were actually fathered by her husband. The Praeger family bank is also desperately struggling and amidst this story of lies, deceit and family feuding, what will the final impact be on the Praeger-Caterham children?
If you enjoy sagas with lots of drama then this is a book you will undoubtedly appreciate. I really liked how Vincenzi managed to tie in the happenings of the Praeger/Caterham families with what was happening in society historically at the time. It was both believable and engrossing. As an ardent admirer of big country houses and gorgeous National Trust properties too, I also freely indulged in the imagined luxury that was Hartest (the Caterham family home) and how in essence it became a character within the story. The settings were all very vividly depicted, especially the wild parties taking place at some of the London houses during the 1980’s and the decadent Praeger home in the US.
I thought that the large cast of characters would prove to be confusing, but fortunately this wasn’t the case. Some names are shared, but all are easily distinguished by their different traits and personalities. The characters all have their own flaws too, which makes them relatable and truer to life. Some I started off liking a lot then my opinion was quickly altered by their questionable behaviour. By contrast, others I disliked immensely and then came to understand them better as the storyline progressed.
This is a plot that does not resonate with me at all in some respects, as it very much focuses on a world I’m not at all familiar with (and I’m not sure I would ever want to be!), concentrating on the ins and outs of the upper echelons of a rich society life- yet for that reason it gave me an insight into a very different place and I just gobbled up every word. At times it read like a who’s who with all the Viscounts, Countesses and the like chucked in- a bit like ‘Hello’ magazine in fact, another one of my guilty pleasures.
Though this is a long book the pace never slows down with just the right degree of drama, romance and intrigue to keep a reader hooked- and for me it never felt overdone or drawn out in any way. I felt a bit sad when I had finished it actually, as I had been fully immersed in the lives of the characters for so long- always the sign of a great read.
If you are looking for a romantic read full of secrets and turmoil then this is a book you should check out. Owing to its size, it’s probably a novel to buy on the Kindle or leave as a bedside table book, rather than lugging it around in your everyday bag like I have!