In 1899, the streets of New York City…

4 Nov

No, sadly. Not Newsies. 🙂

The Luxe, by Anna Godberson follows the lives of a group of New York socialites and their satellites in 1899. Elizabeth and Diana Holland are a pair of wealthy and essentially good sisters who find that their fortune has actually been eaten by their late father’s debts. Penelope Hayes is “new money” and lives a life of outrageous opulence and catty gossip. Henry Schoonmaker is the dashing society dandy manipulated by his father’s purse strings. And the gossip pages of the paper are what makes it all go round, and all go down.

The story opens with Elizabeth’s funeral, and Diana’s late arrival with a smile on her face. Then it backtracks, setting up all the characters and watching them crash into each other. Elizabeth loves her childhood friend Will, despite the fact that he’s her coachman, but agrees to marry Henry to save her family from destitution and disgrace. Penelope loves Henry and hates her former best friend Elizabeth for stealing him. Henry loves Diana, but is engaged to Elizabeth so his father doesn’t disinherit him. Diana, well she’s still figuring it out. Add in manipulative parents, vindictive maids who know too much, and you get 448 pages of drama that eventually explains the bizarre opening scene.

This book is pretty much Gossip Girl set at the turn of the century. Elizabeth is Serena, Diana is Jenny, Penelope is Blair, Henry is Nate, Will is Dan, and Isaac Philips Buck (Penelope’s confidante and co-schemer) is Chuck. Plus the society pages in the papers function like Gossip Girl herself. The plot moves only through gossip, rumor, and betrayals, and when characters try to do the right thing, it generally ends up hurting someone else by mistake. Nobody really manages to come out seeming “good,” the women least of all.

Elizabeth and Diana are the closest characters to “good,” and who you’re obviously supposed to sympathize with. However, Elizabeth is convinced she must have a loveless marriage with Henry even though she’s in love with Will – anyone who has read or watched any chickflit or lit knows this will never last. She still manages to hurt Will and her family before she figures it out though. Diana runs around with Henry behind Elizabeth’s back and only manages to feel guilty when she hears of her sister’s death.  All of the characters seem like chess pieces in a multi-way war against each other, every man for himself.

Needless to say, it doesn’t really instill faith in friendships between girls. The Luxe is a tutorial on what happens when gossip becomes more powerful even than money or love, and the only character who ends up with her heart’s desire at the end of the book actually has to leave New York (and thus the plot) to get it. Sounds a lot like high school.

That being said, it is an engaging read, and full of great detail and description, particularly in the way of the girls’ dresses – if the one on the cover wasn’t tempting enough. Elizabeth and Diana aren’t really malicious on purpose, they just have that frustrating way of not telling people things that will inevitably do much more damage later than if they’d just spit them out immediately, but it does build tension!

The series continues with Rumors, Envy, and Splendor, plus Godberson has just put out the first book in a new series that sounds pretty much like this one except set in the 20’s.

Sadly, while Elizabeth and Diana do manage to do right by the end of the book, The Luxe rates a JA on the PSA.

God, I want that dress. The wraparound of the cover minus the blurb, which was done by the author of Gossip Girl. Surprised? Nope.

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2 Responses to “In 1899, the streets of New York City…”

  1. Kelsey T November 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Sounds like it shoulda been “Newsies”…

    • pickychick books November 7, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

      Um, I’m pretty sure everything should have been Newsies, haha

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