Becoming Belle by Nuala O’Connor
G.P. Putnam and Sons, 2018. Hardcover, 384 pages.
This based on a true story novel tells the story of Belle Bilton. Belle grew up with three sisters in a middle-class military family but dreamed of the stage. In 1887, Belle left her family for London and took to the stage. She was soon joined by her sister, Flo. Together they become the Sisters Bilton act at the Empire Theater and take London by storm. As their fame rises, readers will see how they went from living in a rundown apartment to homes of their own. They also become regular patrons of the Corinthian Club, where Belle meets three men who will be influential in her life: one becomes her protector, one her true love, and one her downfall.
Belle marries in 1891 to William Por la Trench, Viscount Dunlo, in secret. When this is discovered, the viscount’s father, the Earl of Clancarty, tries to tear them apart. First, this is by sending William abroad. Then it turns into divorce proceedings, naming Belle and her protector, Isidor Wertheimer as adulterers. Throughout, Belle maintains her career. How will Belle manage now? How might her past come back to haunt her? Will she be torn from her true love? Pick up a copy and find out.
I have mixed feelings about this novel. The first part I thoroughly enjoyed. Reading about an independent Belle and how she made her way in life was both interesting and demonstrates a good example of a strong, pioneering woman who was well ahead of her time. The second part, after her marriage, was less interesting. I felt the divorce trial and events leading up to it were too drawn out. All said, throughout O’Connor used vivid descriptions to draw readers in and did a good job of evoking the characters’ emotions.
Do you know of any similar historical figures to Belle? If so, who and are any books written about them? Do you think you will giving Becoming Belle a try?
Thanks to First to Read for an advanced copy of the novel.