The Golden Hour
In The Golden Hour, author Beatriz Williams tells the interconnected stories of two women, decades apart, whose lives are irrevocably changed by their deep and abiding love for the men of the Winthrop family. For Lulu, a journalist desperate to uncover the truth about the apparent death of the man she loves, and Elfriede, a woman doing her best to survive the horrors of war-torn Europe, the love they feel for these magnetic and mysterious men will cause them to re-evaluate their every priority, even if it thrusts them directly into the path of unimagined dangers.
Set against the glitz and glamour of the Bahamas, The Golden Hour sweeps the reader back to a time when the horrors of war and the opulent lives of the upper classes exist in direct opposition to one another. AAR reviewers Em Wittmann and Shannon Dyer both read the novel and got together to discuss and then share their opinions about it.
Shannon: I’ve read and enjoyed a few of Ms. Williams’ previous books, so I was eager to give this one a try. Plus, I was drawn to the exotic setting, so different from places I commonly read about. What drew you to The Golden Hour?
Em: It was the beautiful cover that initially caught my attention, and then, when I discovered the novel centered on spies, WWII, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor…well, for this former college history major, the blurb proved irresistible. I was less interested in the Bahama setting – and once I started reading, those proved to be my least favorite sections as well.
Shannon: I found the novel’s structure somewhat confusing. Not only are we following two different heroines living forty years apart, but the author uses flashbacks to reveal certain key points about the lives of the characters. I’m normally a fan of flashbacks, but they didn’t work so well for me here. I would have preferred a more linear approach. What about you?
Em: I hated it. I don’t mind flashbacks, but with two heroines living decades apart and relaying events affecting themselves and multiple other important secondary characters, it was all too much! I initially thought my constant ‘mini-breaks’ were because the material wasn’t engaging, but I realized after I finished that wasn’t it at all. The whole thing was simply too exhausting to keep track of. One PoV featuring flashbacks – fine. But two, set in vastly different time periods (WWI and WWII)… it was too much. Although Elfriede and Lulu are well rendered, the male characters don’t fare nearly as well. I never felt like I knew Wilfred or Benedict Thorpe, and this detracted from my enjoyment of the story. How did you feel about the large cast? What did you think of the way Wilfred and Benedict were developed (or not)? Everything about them is so murky and secret; why?
Shannon: I normally love large casts of characters, but I had a hard time with this one. Like you said, there’s so much we don’t know about most of them, and I got tired of trying to keep them and their various storylines straight in my mind. And, you’re so right about Benedict and Wilfred. There are huge gaps in our knowledge, making it hard to view them as main characters. I did like Lulu though – at least for a bit. I was drawn to her almost from the start. She’s a journalist with a strong work ethic, and I loved her tenacity. She did act a bit rashly from time to time, and I sometimes struggled to make sense of some of her choices, but she was an engaging heroine just the same. How did you feel about her?
Em: That’s interesting; I didn’t feel connected to Lulu in the Bahamas at all – and the ‘surprise’ of her past wasn’t all that surprising! I enjoyed her PoV when she was with Margaret – and the intrigue that brings them together kept me glued to the pages – but the woman she was in the Bahamas? Cool, world weary, and somehow wise to so much more than the others in the Windsor’s orbit… I don’t know. I struggled with her easy acceptance in Bahaman society, her ability to read people so quickly (WHAT ABOUT HER HUSBAND??!!), and her easy insinuation into the Windsor’s world. Her character is clever – but her life decisions belie that.
Of the two women, I was much more drawn to Elfriede. Her story is obviously and necessarily dramatic and compelling, but as a married, mother of two who suffered through post-partum depression after losing a baby late in my pregnancy, I felt very connected to her. What did you think of Elfriede?
Shannon: I think she may have been my favorite part of the novel. I didn’t find myself questioning her decisions the way I sometimes did with Lulu, and I thought the author did a fantastic job with her back story. She suffered so much, but there was something almost, I don’t know, refreshing about her character.
I really wanted to love the romance plot. Lulu and Benedict have fantastic chemistry, but I sometimes felt their blossoming relationship took a backseat to the political intrigue going on around the Duke and Duchess. How did the romance work for you?
Em: I felt the same (see my comments about the Wilfred and Benedict above). Both women have passionate and intense love affairs with the Thorpe men, but readers barely know them, aside from knowing they have bright red hair and they flit in and out of the story whenever it’s convenient for the plot. Frankly, I found their constant appearances/disappearances totally distracting; I thought the romances were underdeveloped and hot sex does not a ‘love affair for the ages,’ make. Did you find their intense physical relationships enhanced or detracted from the story?
Shannon: I completely agree with your thoughts on the sex. There was a lot of it, but I never really felt like the characters were connected to one another as they made love. There was no sense of them really knowing one another, so it was hard for me to buy into the mind-blowing sex they were having. I think this is one of the cases where less could have been more.
Em: The setting for this story is different for each narrator – Elfriede in WWI era Europe (mostly), and Lulu, who spends most of WWII in the Bahamas. I enjoyed these glimpses of an unfamiliar world – and I think this is the first novel I’ve ever read that’s set in the Bahamas. I didn’t realize it had such a complicated racial history. Did you?
Shannon: I know practically nothing about the Bahamas. I think it’s one of those places we’ve managed to romanticize over time without even realizing it. Its history is incredibly complex, and I appreciated the glimpse this book gave me into the parts of this island paradise that aren’t often talked about.
I don’t think this discussion would be complete without at least touching on the Duchess of Windsor. I’ve been intrigued by the romance between Edward and Wallis Simpson since I first learned about it back in high school. It was wonderful to see it fleshed out here, and I found myself developing a bit of a fondness for Wallis, even though she wasn’t always kind to those around her. She was a powerful woman in a time when that wasn’t popular, and I think she deserves props for that. How did you feel about her?
Em: Oh, wow Shannon! We seem to feel so differently about the characters in this book. I’ve also been intrigued by the Windsors and their romance, and the moment they appear in the story, I had to pause and do a little research of my own. I was inclined to dislike Wallis based on my vague recollection of her life and their history, and truly, the novel (and my research) didn’t do much to change that impression. I was surprised by her volunteer efforts, but her motivation for these efforts is so glaringly self-serving, I just couldn’t like her.
I see what you mean about her power perhaps working against her, but since her behavior is entirely self-serving, I found it hard to sympathize with her. I do think Ms. Williams was looking to cast Wallis as a villain, so for me it was mission accomplished.
Shannon: This is a hard book for me to grade. I really enjoyed parts of it, but the huge cast of characters and the odd narrative style make it a book I’m hesitant to recommend wholeheartedly. I think I’ll give it a B-.
Em: I also had a hard time grading this one. I struggled for the same reasons you did – and one more. It just mostly bummed me out. So yes, it’s smart, engrossing, and fascinating, but it’s also depressing, overwhelming, and tedious. I’m also giving it a B-.