Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Gin Lovers - Jamie Brenner

For me it was just as much fun (OK, in 90 degree heatwave also a bit of an endurance test) to walk around New York (New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue, Rockerfeller Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art) as it was to experience the air-conditioning of the Javits Center and the superlative Book Expo America in late May and early June. You might read about the show in advance, you'll see the programme and you'll see who's exhibiting. None of that will prepare you for the scale or the friendliness as advance reading copies are shoved at you with recommendations to find a ticket to this signing or the other. I'd gone over to learn, to talk to people and hear something at the conference. I wasn't, quite, expecting to see so many authors or collect quite so many books. Some authors I knew and wanted to meet; others were entirely new to me and I'd like to introduce Jamie Brenner. Book signings are scheduled all day at Book Expo America, so you realise very quickly that without a time-turner or a buddy-system you will miss out on some events and you'll need to prioritise and just go with the flow. I happened to be walking past when Jamie Brenner was doing a signing and I'm so pleased I did as I now own a much-admired copy of The Gin Lovers.

I have a weakness for historical novels and was drawn to The Gin Lovers with an enticingly nightclubby red light cover art and suggestions of jazz and cocktails. English politicians do rail against binge-drinking, but England has never, unlike the US, banned the sale of alcohol entirely. It's in this climate of polite society toasting with sparkling water in public with the daring young visiting speakeasies during the night that we see exactly how dangerous and enticing alcohol is. It's the conflict of the traditional and the modern as the unhappily-married Charlotte Delacorte is tempted into a life of jazz, cocktails and seduction while trying to coax her louche sister-in-law to return to the gilded cage of her Fifth Avenue townhouse. Charlotte's married well in search of security and soon realises that she's exchanged poverty for other anxieties.

I happened on Jamie's signing at BEA and she's lovely, as is The Gin Lovers. This seems a change in direction for her as she's written several other contemporary novels also set in New York. I'm, selfishly, hoping we see more of Charlotte Delacorte as she's a beautifully conflicted heroine whose loss of naivete is shown in such a sympathetically believable way.

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