Opening sentence: “The February dawn crept in slowly, apologetically, as if it sensed how unwelcome it was.”
Featuring a dual timeline set in 1925 and 1936, The Glittering Hour tells the story of Selina Lennox, an affluent woman who the newspapers refer to as a Bright Young Thing: they were a real group of rich kids (well, in their late teens/early 20s) who lived to party and go against what society asked of them. They had crazy (dangerous) night time treasure hunts driving around London, drunk, looking for clues and generally disrupting the peace. As Selina and her pals take part in a fictional version of this, I was effortlessly transported back to the era, The Glittering Hour was all so wonderfully researched and written. I have read a biography of the Mitford girls, legends of this era (who do get fleeting references here) so had an idea about the time, but this book brought everything I vaguely knew about the 1920s into glorious technicolour.
The 1925 narrative comes just after the First World War and looks at the different ways damaged people try to get on with their lives and make sense of things. Selina lost her brother in the war, so is delicate and has a wonderful innocence to her. An accidental meeting with photographer Lawrence Weston changes her world, but society at the time and not quite having a direct enough character to do what she really wants means she marries a man her family decide she should and although doesn’t love him, has endless love for her daughter, Alice.
It’s Alice’s narrative we pick up in 1936. She is 9-years-old and has been sent to stay with her cold, distant Grandmama at Blackwood Park while her parents are on an business trip in India. To pass the time, Alice is (remotely, through letter correspondence) set a treasure hunt by her mother, revealing ‘the story of how Alice came to be.’ This is a lovely nod to Selina’s own high jinks and a poetic way to tie up the narratives.
I always appreciate a novel that throws in a few real facts and there are great references to events from 1936 – the Wallis Simpson drama and the Spanish Civil War, which I only know about thanks to another novel I read The Muse by Jesse Burton, but things like this really help ground a novel and give it an extra layer of authenticity for me.
The Glittering Hour threw me an unexpected curveball 3/4 of the way through and from that point the emotional impact ramped up too. I didn’t guess it would take this turn, so felt a little emotionally drained after reading! This is a good thing though, it was a wonderful mixture of tragic and hopeful; a story that seems simple at first, then you find yourself thinking back to it and appreciating how clever it really is. A truly satisfying read. The Glittering Hour of the title, by the way, refers to 6pm, the time when it becomes socially acceptable to have champagne. Love this and will be incorporating this phrase into my life from now on.
Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours (@annecater) for inclusion on this fab blog tour! For more insight into The Glittering Hour and to find out a little more about the author, read my exclusive interview Iona Grey, right here.
/ Published by Simon & Schuster 2019
/ 480 pages
/ Rating: 4/5
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