The Glittering Hour
The Glittering Hour is a blood-letter of a novel, lacerating the reader nonstop with its depressing plot twists. It’s one of those novels that’s well-written and has interesting characters, but as those characters all but go out of their way to make themselves miserable, the reader becomes annoyed with their choices.
It’s 1925, and for socialite Selina Lennox, life is a wild, carefree whirl of parties, treasure hunts, adventurous gamboling, drinking, and trailing behind her wild friends Flick and Harry, crashing through life with fearless hedonism inspired by the fact that too many people she knew died on muddy, bloody fields during the Great War. The press pants after her every wild action, and Selina seems to love it all, but she’s frantically trying to push away the sadness she feels about the loss of her brother Howard.
Then one night, she has a chance encounter with the impoverished artist Lawrence Weston and instantly falls for him, even though Lawrence – who paints portraits of those soldiers lost in World War I and wants to become a photographer – will never mix comfortably with her smart set, and could never be the sort of man her mother wants her to marry. In fact, Rupert Carew, her brother’s jaded best friend, is the man she knows she should marry. Caught between duty and settling down and the joy of indulging in the social whirl, what will Selina choose?
In1935, normally quiet nine-year-old Alice, Selina’s daughter, is living with her grandmama and her servants and tutors in the gently moldering Blackwood Park. She communicates with her mother only through letters – both the ones Selina sends from her world travels and the ones she’s previously scattered about the area as a sort of treasure hunt that both explains Alice’s origins to her and lets her know how much her mother misses and cares for her during their separation when Selina is (supposedly) on a business trip with her husband.
Alice has a rampant curiosity about the mystery she’s been presented, and she follows the clues and her mother’s stories back through time to discover the point of her origin, while also developing friendships; with her sympathetic maid, Polly, her strict governess, Miss Vera Lovelock, and Mr. Patterson, the family’s old gardener, who both holds a piece of Selina’s story and provides Alice with a way to restore Blackwood Park’s beloved gardens to their former glory. What mystery will Alice uncover, and will she be able to do it in time before it’s too late.
The Glittering Hour has a great sense of history and character, which is what keeps its grade at a solid mid-level C. But the plot – which car-crashes The Secret Garden into a general F. Scott Fitzgerald pastiche – never feels original enough to be distinct.
That’s not to say that Polly, Alice, Selina and Lawrence aren’t interesting. In fact, I honestly wished that we’d stayed in the present with Alice, because following her throughout her scavenger hunt adventure is more interesting than Selina and her cowardly aimlessness.
Sadly, the mystery of whom Selina will choose to marry is ruined about midway through the novel, leaving the reader to tap their fingers while they wait for the inevitable answer to the tangle in Selina’s portion of the book. The reason why she makes that choice feels designed by the author to make everyone miserable instead of feeling organic to the character’s needs.
Misery is, indeed, a theme for the majority of the novel, from Alice Mary Lennoxing it up in her loneliness to Lawrence’s angst to Selina’s self-disgust cum self-sacrifice. Eventually The Glittering Hour puts forth an arguably good portrait of grief and mourning – but the plot twists one must endure to get there make it a struggle to enjoy.