by Anna Godbersen
The Luxe is obviously inspired by Gossip Girl and its various spin offs and knock offs. The inside flap rattles off the similarities of the two series before informing the reader that while this is still Manhattan, it’s 1899.
The Luxe concerns the Holland girls–Diana Holland and her recently deceased older sister, Elizabeth. It opens on Elizabeth’s funeral, and then flashes back to the events that led up to Elizabeth’s demise. It involves Henry Schoonmaker, a dashing and rich young bachelor, Penelope Hayes, Elizabeth’s “best friend”, and Lina Broud, Elizabeth’s maid. Scandal, secret trysts, and lots of intricate clothing follow.
Elizabeth, our noble heroine, is fair and lovely, although her deep, dark secret gnaws away at her, so we don’t tire of her. Diana is an impetous romantic, a bit like the female lead of The Secret of the Pink Carnation (although she’s quite a bit more capable). Henry is a bit of a rake, forced into matrimony by his father. Penelope is the best of the lot, as the main villainess.
She’s got an effete minion, Isaac Philip Buck, and a Boston Terrier to stroke while she plots the downfall of Elizabeth. She dresses in red all the time (as opposed to Elizabeth’s pastels), knows she’s gorgeous, and is a savage little society girl. In short, she’s wonderful.
Lina is the supporting villain, vying with her mistress for the affections of Elizabeth’s secret lover. She gets to show us the lower class in this novel, and I really wish she measured up to Penelope. Whereas Penelope is rich and spoiled, Lina is a working girl, in a nice position with a good family (as her sister reminds her). Halfway through the novel, Lina is let go, but I think she would have been far more effective as a double agent within the Holland home. A wasted opportunity, there. Godbersen also tries to make Lina sympathetic, despite her role as thwarter of the romance the audience is obviously supposed to root for, and it doesn’t quite ring true.
The boys–Henry Schoonmaker and Elizabeth’s secret lover–are drawn a bit more thinly than the girls, but in a novel like this, who honestly cares? Henry is better than the secret lover, honestly wanting to change his philandering ways once he falls in love.
The writing and pace are quick and easy, easily devoured in one sitting. It’s very well organized–each chapter begins with an appriopriate quote, either fictional or real, and it smoothly moves between characters without being jarring. Watching Elizabeth find solace in Penelope as Penelope plots against her is suspenseful and downright fun.
Novels like this are always fleeting, but The Luxe suffers this more than most, due to its ending. While a great deal of threads are satisfactorily tied up, it very obviously and almost aggressively sets itself up for a sequel. It feels a bit presumptuous, and manages to rob the slight story of its very small impact. It’s still enjoyable, but the end reminds you that other books are coming. It’s an unfortunate reminder that it’s a marketing gimmick. Leaving something open for a sequel is one thing, but nearly explicitly stating the plot of the sequel is quite another.
Bottom line: The Luxe is a light and fluffy novel, full of scandal and hidden agendas. Its setting manages to lift it above Gossip Girl and justify the sheer drama involved, but not by much. It’s enjoyable and remarkably quick, but not without its flaws–it aggressively sets up a sequel, and its supporting villainess does not measure up to its main villain, the wonderfully cunning Penelope Hayes.
I rented this book from the public library.