The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams
Published: May 2014
Genre: historical fiction
Fresh from college, irrepressible Vivian Schuyler defies her wealthy Fifth Avenue family to work at cutthroat Metropolitan magazine. But this is 1964, and the editor dismisses her…until a parcel lands on Vivian’s Greenwich Village doorstep that starts a journey into the life of an aunt she never knew, who might give her just the story she’s been waiting for.
In 1912, Violet Schuyler Grant moved to Europe to study physics, and made a disastrous marriage to a philandering fellow scientist. As the continent edges closer to the brink of war, a charismatic British army captain enters her life, drawing her into an audacious gamble that could lead to happiness…or disaster.
Fifty years later, Violet’s ultimate fate remains shrouded in mystery. But the more obsessively Vivian investigates her disappearing aunt, the more she realizes all they have in common—and that Violet’s secret life is about to collide with hers.
1964: It all begins with a suitcase sent to Vivian Schuyler’s new (new to her, at least) apartment. Originally addressed to a Violet Schuyler, Vivian is determined to figure out who the owner of the suitcase is, what happened to her, and why she seems to be erased from the family tree. Thankfully the Schuylers are littered across the society pages, which Vivian as full access to at her Metropolitan job. 1912: Violet Schuyler, analytical and clever, arrives in England to study physics at university. A charming, older professor agrees to take her on as a student. All seems to be well till it leads to a disastrous marriage and a quick move to Berlin. As Europe draws closer to war, a British army captain enters Violet’s life, and makes her question everything.
Williams is a new-to-me author and I have a feeling I’ll be reading more of her work soon. Especially if she has some snappy, quick-witted characters like Vivian, and startlingly contrasting characters like Violet.
Vivian made me laugh out loud, and I enjoyed her spunk, her forwardness, her jokes, and even her tender-hearted moments with work friend Margaux. The back-and-forth soap opera drama with Dr. Paul, though wild and spinning, was enjoyable to read as well. You can really see her beginning to let down her walls. Violet, on the other hand, was such a studious, unemotional sort of character, experiencing her own coming-of-age in a rather cruel way thanks to the men in her life. It was wonderful to watch her blossom. Toss in Lionel, the British army captain (…or is he?), and you’re in for an awakening.
One of my favorite things (in an “ah, interesting!” way) about this novel is the way sex and sexuality was viewed 50 years apart. On the one hand, it was excellent fodder for juicy gossip, but most would never discuss what was happening behind closed doors. By the 1960s, people were forward in admitting their experience, taking safety precautions with birth control, etc. Imagine how Vivian and Violet would have turned out if they lived in the other’s time frame.
Though there are some ick moments (I won’t even begin to discuss Violet’s husband), the novel propels forward with such momentum, you don’t even realize time has passed. I am sporting a rather alarming sunburn thanks to this novel! Williams captured my attention and held it tight from beginning to end, and I can’t wait to begin another of her books!
This qualifies as book 7 of 12 in the Rock My TBR challenge.