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Amber Brock – A Fine Imitation

May 24, 2017

26. A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock (2016)

Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 21 May 2017
Finished: 23 May 2017

Where did it come from? Amazon.
Why do I have it? It was the pick of the month for one of my book clubs.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 May 2017.

Wealth comes with privilege,
but also with some stifling
expectations, too.

Summary: Vera Bellington has everything a woman could want: a wealthy and powerful husband, a penthouse apartment in one of the most exclusive buildings in the city, summers in Montauk, a place at the pinnacle of 1920s New York high society. Yet she’s dissatisfied: her husband Arthur is rarely home, and aloof and distant when he is; her society friends never seem able to rise above gossip to talk about anything of substance, her mother is constantly on the lookout of any traces of “improper” behavior, and she has no outlet for her love of art and art history. However, all of that starts to change when the tenants of the building hire an artist to paint a mural in the building’s pool room. Emil Hallan is young, attractive, talented… and mysterious, charming the building’s tenants but deftly dodging any questions about himself or his past. Vera is drawn to him, but how can she trust a man she knows nothing about? And in falling for him, is she being lured towards the same kind of mistake she has made in the past?

Review: I am about a year behind on writing reviews, but rather than work on any of that backlog, I’m reviewing the book I finished last night. Why? Because this is 100% the kind of book which will slide right off my cerebellum, and if I don’t get it reviewed now, I will have forgotten everything about it in a week. That’s not to say that it’s a terrible or unenjoyable read, just that it didn’t have anything that really grabbed me, or anything that really made it stand out or stick in the memory.

Essentially, this book is what you’d get if you took The Awakening, took away Chopin’s lovely atmospheric prose, moved it from Louisiana to New York, moved it forward in time to the 1920s, added in the mother-daughter relationship from Titanic, and a sub-plot about a scandal and a broken friendship from the main character’s college days. (As a side note, why is the man who tempts the stifled rich woman to adultery and rule-breaking and becoming her true self always an artist? It’s true here, it’s true in The Awakening, and even Jack had his drawings of French girls.) But the upshot is, I felt like I’d read this story before, and I don’t know that this iteration had much that was new to say.

Brock does draw her characters well – I felt like I knew them all fairly well by the end of the novel (although perhaps that’s because none of them stray too far from the archetypes for this type of story.) However, I had a really hard time getting involved in their story. I know it’s part of the point, but Vera is SO passive and so capitulating to her mother and her husband and to society’s expectations that it’s hard to really root for her, and when she finally does stop being quite so passive towards the end of the book, it seems pretty abrupt. There’s also an issue of how much we’re supposed to be pitying the poor little rich girl that I didn’t quite buy into. There is the barest lip service given to the fact that Vera, even given her loveless marriage, has it immensely good compared to almost everyone else in the world, but that’s quickly dismissed by Emil saying that she’s “living the tragedy she knows.” Which, yes, fine, everyone has their own struggles and their own unhappinesses, but it was hard for me to get *too* bent out of shape over the fact that Vera found her life – the life that she had ultimately chosen to live – to be unsatisfying. The one character I liked the most, and thought had the most interesting story, was Bea, Vera’s college friend with whom she’d fallen out (although we don’t learn the reasons for why until the end of the book). I think a book from Bea’s perspective would have been much more lively and much more interesting. Emil’s backstory, on the other hand, is also revealed late in the book, but after such a big deal is made out of the fact that he won’t tell any of it to any one, when it finally does come out, it didn’t quite have the punch to be satisfying after all that build-up, even though it was at least keeping in character.

Ultimately, this book was an easy read, and didn’t have anything particularly bad or problematic about it, but neither did it have anything particularly wonderful or new. The Jazz Age setting might attract some people to this novel, but it wasn’t really a focus; apart from one visit to the novelty of the cinema and one visit to a speakeasy, and a few mentions about the Bellingtons having to get their alcohol from Canada, this novel could easily have been set in modern times. I was hoping there would be more of an emphasis on art and art history and forgery hinted at in the title, and while elements of these do come into play, they’re not really the focus. I enjoyed it enough to finish it, but it didn’t have enough substance that I’m ever likely to want to revisit it. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This book would be fine for a beach or a plane or other light reading that’s a little more refined than your typical chick-lit, but honestly? I’d suggest picking up The Awakening instead.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: I couldn’t find any at the Book Blogs Search Engine. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: If she had to guess, Vera Longacre would say that most of the girls at Vassar College knew her name and could pick her out of a crowd, even if she could not do the same for them.

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