A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock
Crown, 2016. Hardcover, 304 pages.
Set in dual timelines of just before and just after World War I, A Fine Imitation focuses on the lonely life lived by one upper-class woman. In the more recent timeline, Vera Bellington is a married woman living in a grand building in New York built by her husband’s firm. Her life consists of shopping, socializing with the other women in the building, and weekly, dreaded lunches with her mother. Arthur, her husband, is often away on business, leaving her home alone. Then her life begins to change when a muralist is invited to be the artist-in-residence and paint a mural in the pool room. Emil Hallan becomes the star resident everyone wants to meet, but it is to Vera that he is drawn.
The other timeline is set a decade earlier when Vera is a student of art history at Vassar. During her senior year, she befriends Bea Stillman, a younger student. They become quick friends. Bea often challenges Vera to try new things, often the very things Vera’s mother would forbid. Then one time they go a step too far and Vera’s mother forces a choice on her that will forever change both Vera and Bea’s lives. As the book ends readers will see how the two timelines combine to form a whole.
As I read this novel, it struck me that Vera had everything a woman could have ever wanted but that she was not happy. Vera felt that she filled the role her distant mother planned for her, but it is obvious to readers that Vera is living an unfulfilled life. It just takes Vera longer to realize it. Because of this, Vera is often lonely, even in the company of others. As the friendship with Vera and Hallan grows, Vera slowly begins to discover herself. As she does, Vera makes other realizations, like who truly cares for her and the actual value of wealth.
There is also a touch of mystery driving this novel beyond Vera’s self-discovery. Hallan acts very mysterious, refusing to preview his work or to share details about himself, and this behavior soon leads to others in the building thinking he may not be who he claims. He provides clues to Vera, who is caught between Hallan and the other residents. While my suspicions on Hallan’s history proved true, the foreshadowing was subtle enough that non-history majors would not have easily caught on.
In all, this was an enjoyable book that kept me hooked throughout. I also know it is one my mother will enjoy reading after me, which is something I cannot say about all the fiction I review.
Do you think you will read this novel? Do you know of any other coming of age novels where the realizations come later in life (Vera was in her thirties)? If you do have the opportunity to read this novel, how does it compare to others with a setting mostly in the 1920s?
I received this book through Blogging for Books for an honest review.