Book Review: The Golden Hour

Part of my job at the library is to lead a book club each month. This is something I really enjoy doing, and over the… two years now, I believe, that I’ve been leading it I’ve really come to appreciate the group and look forward to the discussion every month. Another thing this does is introduce me to books I wouldn’t normally read. This might sound silly since I’m the person who picks the books, but I try to cater to my group’s tastes more than my own. I sort of inherited the group. It had begun previously, and I took over when the old leader retired.

This month we read The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams, which I don’t think I ever would have picked up on my own!

The Golden Hour
Beatriz Williamz
William Morrow | July 9, 2019
485 p
My rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Bahamas, 1941. Newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrives in the Bahamas to investigate the Governor and his wife for a New York society magazine. After all, American readers have an insatiable appetite for news of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that glamorous couple whose love affair nearly brought the British monarchy to its knees five years earlier. What more intriguing backdrop for their romance than a wartime Caribbean paradise, a colonial playground for kingpins of ill-gotten empires?

Or so Lulu imagines. But as she infiltrates the Duke and Duchess’s social circle, and the powerful cabal that controls the islands’ political and financial affairs, she uncovers evidence that beneath the glister of Wallis and Edward’s marriage lies an ugly—and even treasonous—reality. In fact, Windsor-era Nassau seethes with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension, and in the middle of it all stands Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of tremendous charm and murky national loyalties. Inevitably, the willful and wounded Lulu falls in love.

Then Nassau’s wealthiest man is murdered in one of the most notorious cases of the century, and the resulting coverup reeks of royal privilege. Benedict Thorpe disappears without a trace, and Lulu embarks on a journey to London and beyond to unpick Thorpe’s complicated family history: a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen.

The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple.

~*~

The best thing about this book, for me, was Lulu’s voice. She had a very distinct personality – sharp and bright and sassy, I guess you’d say, and it made for vivid writing with a strong voice. It was fun to read, hearing what she had to say about what was going on. Everything else was just… okay, for me. It wasn’t bad, really, but I didn’t love it. You might have noticed in the summary that it’s the story of two unforgettable women, but one isn’t mentioned at all. Well, for me, at least, it’s because the two threads are so disparate they don’t feel as if they belong together. In fact they don’t really tie together until the end. For some readers, I think this could work, but for me I found the other women – Elfriede – to be a little less immediately engaging. Her story wasn’t uninteresting, and neither was she as a character, but it was a much slower-paced, more internal story as opposed to Lulu’s bright, Bahamian intrigue-laced adventures. A few of the ladies in my book club enjoyed Elfriede’s story more than Lulu’s, but I did not. I actually skipped her sections once or twice! (I would not have done this if I didn’t have a deadline I had to finish the book by, though.)

My biggest complaint about the book was that it was too long. At 485 pages, I feel like it’s fairly hefty, and with two separate narratives there can be a lot going on. I feel like I would have enjoyed the book more as two separate stories, maybe two books. However, the book is structured in a way that I don’t think would work without the two differing narratives. There are a lot of flashbacks and jumping around in time, and different sections of a character’s story take place in different years. Without the clean break of a new character, I do not think the sections could have been effectively separated in the same way. Having the same character jump between 1941 and 1943, then back and forth, all without a break, might have been jarring to readers.

Overall I enjoyed reading it, but it did not leave me with a strong impression after I’d finished. I cared about the characters, but I didn’t feel invested in the plot, and there was so much going on that without that investment it just didn’t draw me in. (Also, for anyone interested, since it does take place in the Bahamas – no, there’s no real discussion of the impact of colonialism and racial tensions are touched on but not addressed. It’s very obvious it was written by a white person and I believe the characters are all white, save for Veryl, whose voice is written in dialect which… was so unnecessary.)

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