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The Luxe, by Anna Godbersen, is a story about well-mannered girls who wear corsets and kidskin gloves, attend balls, fuss over table linens, and enjoy making small talk about the weather and gowns. In the beginning, the tale seems like an unbearably dull description of dresses and social events. But at night time, those same, “perfect” girls receive handsome young men at their bedroom windows and sneak around to their crushes' homes. Suddenly, The Luxe is no longer boring.
The book is set in high-society New York, 1899. It starts off with a funeral scene, mourning Elizabeth Holland, a rich, upper class young woman who has drowned, although her body has yet to be found. After the first chapter, it seems as if the book's ending has already been revealed, but quite to the contrary, the suspense is just beginning. The book then goes back in time a few weeks, to tell the scandalous story of the comings and goings of New York's upper class members. Elizabeth Holland is in an arranged engagement to one of the most handsome and wealthy young men in existence, Henry Schoonmaker, even though she does not love him. Secretly, Elizabeth is having a romance with the family stable boy, Will Keller, a secret she must keep to herself or risk shaming her family forever. Unfortunately, her best friend, Penelope Hayes, is in love with Henry – once Penelope finds out that she can never have Henry for herself, she turns against Elizabeth and vows to sabotage her marriage -
"I would rather see Elizabeth dead than married to my Henry."
To make things even worse for poor Elizabeth, her maid Lina is a backstabber who wants Will, her mistress' true love, for herself. And to top it all off, Henry, Elizabeth's fiancé, falls in love with her younger sister. How far will Penelope go to get back the man she loves? Does Henry still intend to marry his current fiancé, even as he is having an affair with her little sister? And what will happen to Elizabeth?
My favorite character is definitely Elizabeth, the heroine of the story. On the outside, she is impeccably polite and classy, two characteristics I respect. This is shown in the very first sentence -
"In life, Elizabeth Adora Holland was known not only for her loveliness but also for her moral character..."
On the inside, she is brave and adventurous in pursuing her true love with a stable boy. Over the course of several weeks, she has to face several dangerous enemies - the jealous Penelope and the disloyal maid Lina. Elizabeth skillfully leaps over all the hurdles life places in her way, keeping her hair, gown, and reputation intact throughout the journey.
The story, thick with drama, also portrays several themes, the first being to stay true to yourself. Elizabeth must decide between upholding her family's wealth and reputation by marrying her arranged fiance, or staying true to herself and going off with the man she really loves. As Elizabeth's father says,
"Remember to always be true...as true and honest as the girl I know."
Another theme of The Luxe is always be alert, and watch your back. Anna Godbersen shows this by having several characters, Lina and Penelope, turn against Elizabeth and try to ruin her. Her awareness and quick thinking keep her safe, which teaches readers a valuable lesson.
Why did I choose to read The Luxe? The idea of historical fiction, drama, mystery, and romance all rolled in to one book definitely appealed to me. Upon reading the inside jacket at the library, trying to decide whether to check it out, I was immediately hooked and wanted to read the whole story.
I have nothing but positive thoughts about The Luxe - it is one of my favorite books! Anna Godbersen's skill at crafting plot is superb, especially for her first major novel, and she keeps the suspense going until the very last page; the characters are all full of life and seem to burst out of the pages. Another reason I loved The Luxe was that the grammar was flawless - whenever I read a book and keep stumbling across discrepancies in the tenses or typos, it turns me off and I don't usually keep reading.
I would definitely recommend this book for anyone - it is a real treat, especially for those who like romance and mystery. I was unable to put it down - literally - and stayed up until two to finish reading (under the covers with a flashlight, of course!)