Gossip Girl meets The Age of Innocence. Except that there's not really any Age of Innocence here.
tried with this book, because my sister recommended it as enjoyable
fluff. I tried to think of it as light and fluffy and inconsequential, a
book to read as a break from heavier things. It didn't work. I know
that I have biases as a history grad student. But I don't demand
absolute historical accuracy, as long as it's a good story, well told.
This was beyond the pale.
First of all, when you start your
fricking book with a quote from The Age of Innocence, one would think
that you had absorbed a little bit from that book, other than thinking
it would be hilarious to cast Edith Wharton as a dotty old aunt with
much of the history of Ellen Olenska. Also, when said quote is the very
famous one about "the way of people who dreaded scandal more than
disease, who placed decency above courage," etc, etc, then you would
have to have characters who ever, ever, ever placed face above personal
interest. Who were in any way worried about scandal. Who tried not to
Apparently, "scenes" and "scandal" don't include
vomiting in public, public female drunkenness, or every single young
woman character sneaking out (often through the streets) for a
rendezvous with their secret lovers. No one is ever concerned that
they'll be caught. There are no repercussions.
To add to that,
every young man of the upper crust of New York society is sleeping
freely with young women of the same class, and not sexually harassing
the maids or going to prostitutes? Yeah, right.
This is what
really drives me crazy - it commits one of the two cardinal historical
fallacies. One is to see the people of the past as utterly alien,
consumed by crazy superstitions and irrationalities, people we can
barely understand. The second, and the one to which The Luxe falls prey,
is that the past is populated by people who are EXACTLY like us, just
in different clothes.
Neither is true. The past is both alien
and familiar, and both the strangeness and the familiarity crop up in
absolutely unexpected places.
So, jet set mores of our time
period are not the same as the upper crust mores of Gilded Age New York.
Sure, I'm sure there was premarital sex going on, but it was much more
likely to be outside of one's own class (if you were male.) And there
may have been premarital sex going on within a class, but it would have
been bloody discreet, and very dangerous. Nothing had repercussions in
this book. I didn't even believe the threat of financial ruin, and in
the end, it didn't matter to the characters either. Not that it happened
- it was just brushed off.
But mostly, I just hated the
characters. They were self-absorbed, petty, and solipsistic. I would
have hated them in a modern setting and I loathe them as supposed
representations of a different time period as well.