I received an ARC of this and decided to read it on a whim because something about the idea of reading a book set in the roaring twenties while in the 2020s felt like achieving parity. I wasn't really sure what to expect of THE GLITTERING HOUR, but reading it was a lot like reading one of those bloated, sensationalist historical epics that were so popular in the 1970s. Honestly, if we're getting a resurgence of those, I will be so glad, as they are so devastatingly, emotionally engaging, and this book was really no exception to the example set by its forebears.
The timeline of this book is a bit difficult to follow at first because there are so many POVs and it skips around a lot. In the past, set in the 1920s, we meet a young Selina who is at the peak of her life, has a zest for trying all kinds of new and exciting experiences, and falling in love for the first time. Unfortunately for her, it's a classic case of "My boyfriend is out of my social caste-- and mummy and daddy will cut me off without a red cent!" in the vein of Titanic. He's even an artist, for God's sake.
In the "present," which in this case, is the mid-1930s, a young girl named Alice is fretting because she's left with her icy grandparents and mean governess while her parents are off in Burma overseeing her father's ruby mines. To entertain her, her mother has been sending her scavenger hunt clues via her sympathetic nursemaid, Polly, while also weaving in bits and pieces of her own past. I'm not always fond of children narrators but Alice is a sympathetic one, and I feel like the author did a good job authentically representing the mindset and thoughts of a young, fanciful child.
Also in the present, we catch little glimpses of Selina, now a fully grown woman and bogged down with sorrow and regret. We don't know what's happened to make her feel so upset or why, but she seems like a woman without much hope. We also see other people from her past as well, also now in the future, and also living with the fruits of their choices.
In the second part of the book, all of these narrative strands weave together to form a portrait of love, loss, tragedy, regret, life, hope, and courage. If this book has a message, I think it's that you need to learn how to live for yourself-- and not for others-- or you may end up at the end of your life looking back on all of your choices and realizing that you ended up walling yourself into a brick house of misery without any doors or windows. It's a sad message, but a powerful one, too.
THE GLITTERING HOUR is gorgeously written and the characterization is really well done. You know you're reading a good book when the characters are driving you crazy with their poor choices and you're screaming at them "don't! don't!" even though you totally get why they're making those fool decisions because you've made similar ones in the past yourself. There's a difference between bad choices done because of bad writing and bad choices done for character development, and this is definitely the latter. I loved the epic scope of the book and how it brought the period of the 1920s and 1930s to life. I would definitely read more from this author in the future-- but not without Kleenex.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars