Author: Tracy Chevalier
Published: Plume, 2001
Where I Got It: I sound repetitive, Goodwill
Why I Read It: I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring by the same author
I was hooked by the very first page, no, the very first sentence.
"I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed."
What a hook. I just had to keep reading! Anyways, within the opening pages, Queen Victoria dies. Two seemingly different London families living different lives meet at the cemetery to mourn her. One family looks towards the future and change, the other family is firmly rooted in their Victorian ways. These families become entwined with each other and the rest of the book follows them throughout nine years of ups and downs.
Some argue that the mothers/wives of the two families, Kitty and Gertrude, are the main characters of the book. I believe that their daughters, Maude and Lavinia, are the two stars. They endure the most change throughout the story. We watch them grow up through the eyes of their parents, friends, household, and each other.
There are a lot of characters and side stories; usually, this would throw me off and annoy me. Here, not the case. All of the characters are fresh, interesting, and realistic. Each individual's voice is distinctive and offers a new perspective to the story. The cemetery, where the two families originally meet, acts as a character itself. It's where the title of the book came from, where many other significant events take place, and represents Victorian England's obsession with death.
An interesting side story is Kitty Coleman's involvement in the women's suffrage movement. The actions that she takes greatly affect both families, and lead to the heartbreaking ending. I felt I learned a great deal about not only the suffrage movement, but also about Victorian/Edwardian customs in the household and for mourning.
I loved everything about this book. I love books that are either found by accident or are seemingly unheard of that turn out to be jewels. This is definitely one of those; a keeper to read over and over. 5 stars.