Monday, June 8, 2009
Delia Chandler is only eighteen wen she marries Viscount Ivor Conisborough, an older English Aristocrat. Believing that she is destined for great happiness with Ivor, the Southern belle moves across the ocean from Virginia to England, where she will begin a life of luxury. But when she arrives in England, she discovers a shocking secret about Ivor that changes her feelings for him dramatically. Although Delia isn't exactly happy in her marriage to Ivor, she learns to hob-nob with the best of English society and eventually bears her husband two beautiful daughters. Eventually, Ivor's government job requires him to relocate his family to Egypt. Although Delia isn't thrilled with the idea of moving away from her social set, she eventually finds her happiness traveling between the high societies of England and Egypt. While Delia lives the life of one of those in the Palace Circle, her daughters, Petra and Davina, take the stage. Both are determined and independent, like their mother, but their passions lie in different directions. Petra lives a life of refinement and clandestine romance in England, while Davina chooses Egypt as her home and begins to feel the call of social reform, training to become a nurse in the underprivileged sections of the city. Spanning two generations and thirty years, Palace Circle is a story of scandal, intrigue and unlikely romance among the elite and powerful.
This book has been compared to the offerings of Philippa Gregory, which I think is an unjust comparison. Gregrory's books are page-turning, drama-filled reads that I equate to literary junk food: things that are interesting to snack on, a guilty pleasure, if you will. This book, on the other hand, was filled with self-importance and tended to get weighed down in name dropping.
First of all, I found the story very abrupt. Things moved rapid fire and nothing was really deeply covered at all. It seemed like many years and events were compressed into a few pages, which made everything seem rushed and barely explained. I also found it difficult to relate to the characters. They all seemed rather haughty and elitist, and although I tried to overcome it, their plights and predicaments failed to move me. Somewhere around the middle of the story, the book morphed from historical fiction into an espionage novel, which I found a bit odd. Unfortunately the switch didn't enhance my enjoyment of the book at all; rather it just left me a little quizzical. Most of the plot points were very predictable, and the further I got into the main narrative, the more I discovered that the characters' revelations weren't all that shocking or ensnaring. In fact, I had figured out the main thrust of the intrigue very early on in the book, and the only thing left to amuse me was to read about the way in which it would unfold.
I also found it vaguely annoying that everything about this story was written with overwrought melodrama. Everything was dealt with in the most histrionic way possible, and it seemed these people lived only to have outbursts. The characters in this novel were largely one-dimensional and I had a hard time relating to them because there was just so little emotional development evident in their behavior. I also didn't like the fact that Delia seemed to operate solely on her naivety and gullibility. She was very insubstantial as the protagonist; very little seemed to be going on in her head. I found it very unbelievable for a person to be so enmeshed in such a worldly atmosphere and still behave so innocently, especially when further reading exposed the fact that she was just as duplicitous as those around her. The fact that the author commented on her beauty in her every mention also got old very quickly.
Further sections of the book focused on secondary characters that were even less interesting than the major players. Though I enjoyed the sections regarding Egypt a bit more, there was still not enough glue to hold this story together for me. I also felt that the absence of morals in the characters was extremely distasteful, and felt that as a plot point it failed miserably. The fact that almost every character was involved in some sort of extramarital relationship was not particularly inventive, and I wondered why it had to be the crux of this story.
There was no real bite to these characters or their story, everything was just average, and for me, reading four hundred plus pages of average really gets me discouraged. Though the second half of the book (which focused on Egypt) was a bit more entertaining, I found this book not much to my liking. Although this wasn't really the book for me I think if you are the type of person who likes your historical fiction heavy on the drama, this might make a nice read for you.