Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Publication Date: 30 May 2019
Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing. Her life is a whirl of parties and drinking, pursued by the press and staying on just the right side of scandal, all while running from the life her parents would choose for her.
Lawrence Weston is a penniless painter who stumbles into Selina’s orbit one night and can never let her go even while knowing someone of her stature could never end up with someone of his. Except Selina falls hard for Lawrence, envisioning a life of true happiness. But when tragedy strikes, Selina finds herself choosing what’s safe over what’s right.
Spanning two decades and a seismic shift in British history as World War II approaches, Iona Grey’s The Glittering Hour is an epic novel of passion, heartache and loss.
Grey’s previous novel, Letters to the Lost, was my favourite book of 2015. I cannot count how many times I’ve recommended it to friends and family. Despite this, I have been neglectfully slow at reading her follow up book, The Glittering Hour. I can’t explain why, although maybe it was fear that it might not live up to expectations bearing in mind how much I loved Grey’s first novel.
Well, after finally reading it, The Glittering Hour reminds me just why Iona Grey is one of my all time favourite authors. This book is simply marvellous. I was completely gripped from the very first chapter and read the entire book in the space of a day.
The story is, essentially, that of a treasure hunt which leads lonely 9-year-old Alice Carew on a journey to discover her mother’s deepest, darkest secrets. The book is told in a dual narrative, flipping between Alice in 1936 and her mother, Selina Lennox, in 1925. Selina was one of the ‘Bright Young Things’ who kept the tabloid press, and the public, enthralled by their privileged lifestyle and madcap high jinx during the early 1920’s. 1925 is the year when everything changes for Selina and this is detailed in her letters to young Alice almost a decade later. She wants Alice to understand how her life became what it is now.
I love the idea of Alice getting to know her mother better through those letters. My grandmother suffered from dementia before she passed away and, having limited memory of the present, she often talked of the past, revealing things that I had never heard before. When clearing out her house after she moved into a nursing home, I came across a letter which my grandfather wrote to her during World War II. It felt odd reading his words and imagining them in their 20’s, not knowing what life held for them. This made me realise how little I actually know about my own parents and I’ve made a real effort since then to listen properly to their stories and ask them questions about their lives pre-children. Because of this, I really felt an affinity with Alice, learning about her mother’s past and understanding more about her present.
Whilst I loved both Alice and Selina’s characters, the supporting characters are equally compelling. From the froideur of the Lennox’s, to the ultimate party girl Flick and the proper Rupert, from flamboyant Theo to loyal Polly and the bohemian Edith and Lawrence, as a reader you will get drawn in by these persons. The ‘roaring 20s’ were a time of post-war prosperity, with social and moral values becoming somewhat more relaxed. It was interesting to read how Selina, having lost her brother in the war, felt almost a compulsion to enjoy life to its fullest. This 20’s was an era of empowerment and new-found independence for women, and that certainly seems to have been the case with Selina and Flick, as shown by their drinking, smoking and partying. Yet some social constraints obviously remained, as illustrated by the secret budding romance between socialite Selina and poor artist, Lawrence. It may have been acceptable to run riot across London with a cocktail in hand and police on her tail, yet it was not acceptable to become involved with a poor man of lower social standing.
Whilst the story is well-plotted and seamlessly flows between the decades, with one of two twists that will shock and surprise as the tale progresses. However, it is the writing that really raises this book to another level. Grey has created a vivid and evocative world, from the hedonistic lifestyle of Selina and her chums, to the cold and unwelcoming backdrop of the Blackwood estate. I was swept away into a glorious world of post-war high society, with it’s Gatsby-esque decadence, the materialism, the reckless pursuit of pleasure, the music, the dancing, the champagne… I felt as though the story was being enacted around me in full technicolour. I opened a bottle of Prosecco as I read, it felt like the right thing to do whilst in the company of Selina, Flick and Theo.
Be warned, this book is a tear-jerker. The final few chapters didn’t just leave me with tears in my eyes, they made me sob (I blame the prosecco!).
This book is an absolute delight, beautifully written, poignant and captivating. A sweeping love story that will melt the iciest of hearts. I can’t put into words how much I loved The Glittering Hour and I only wish that I had the ability to write a review that would really do the book justice. If you haven’t already picked up a copy, I would highly recommend that you do so.
Massive thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of the book via Netgalley and huge apologies for the delay in reading it.
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. She tweets @iona_grey