- Audiobook Review
- Author: Amber Brock
- Performed by Julia Whelan
- Released: May 2016 by Random House Audio
- Category: Historical Fiction, Romance
Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite’s restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin.
Vera’s story begins in 1913 while studying art at Vassar, where she meets spirited and uninhibited Bea Stillman and forms her first real friendship. As the narrative unfolds the chapters alternate between Vera’s time at Vassar and her life ten years later in New York, where Vera is trapped in a loveless marriage to Arthur Bellington. She lives in luxury but lacks any sort of personal freedom, her duty is to conform. Her life as a society wife is empty and meaningless. Arthur is never home, her mother, Lorna Longacre, is cold and domineering, concerned only with social standing and reputation. Appearance is everything. Vera’s life is a continuous round of vacuous socializing with the other couples who live in the prestigious apartment building, The Angelus, designed and built by her husband.
It’s obvious fairly early on that some sort of scandal occurred at Vassar and Vera and Bea’s friendship did not survive, but the details are not revealed until much later.
The brief conversation in the gallery had been the first time she and Vera had so much as acknowledged each other in all those coincidental meetings, however. Their polite back-and-forth at Fleming’s had finally allowed Vera to get a good look, to see that her hair was still as black as Vera’s, her eyes still a vibrant blue. But some of the pink had faded from her cheeks, and time had chilled her warm demeanour.
Vera had honestly not expected to have any occasion to exchange words with her again. Not with Bea Stillman. Not after the heartbreak that had passed between them on that cold November weekend so many years ago.
When the residents of The Angelus decide to employ a handsome and inscrutable artist, Emil Hallan, to paint a mural in the building’s basement pool room, Vera’s lifestyle and beliefs are challenged. She is drawn to Hallan even though she knows nothing about him and he refuses to divulge anything about his life or past, which fuels the mystery surrounding him.
The descriptions of life in New York during prohibition are detailed and well written. It’s a story of relationships and the expectations for high society women during New York’s prohibition era. The options for these women were severely limited, the ‘Roaring Twenties’ not yet realised, apart from a few caustic remarks on bobbed hair and shorter skirts from Lorna.
I was a little disappointed in Vera’s character. She allows herself to be manipulated by her tyrant of a mother, even as a married woman into her thirties. Also by her husband of ten years, who all but ignores her and lives his own life. She comes across as weak and ineffectual for most of the book, so that when her rebellious breakthrough occurs it’s too sudden and out of character to be plausible. She could have grown and been developed much more throughout. The potential was there.
I enjoyed the back and forth in the timeline which helped move the story along. Perhaps the ending was a little predictable and convenient and I did think an earlier character might make a reappearance, but that didn’t happen. The underlying message that wealth, glamour and privilege don’t necessarily equate to happiness is still relevant. None of the characters actually seemed happy, Vera and Bea came closest during the time spent at Vassar before the scandal. Julia Whelan’s narration is a huge plus, she does a great job.
A Fine Imitation is Amber Brock’s debut novel.
About Amber Brock
AMBER BROCK teaches British literature at an all girls’ school in Atlanta. She holds an MA from the University of Georgia and lives in Smyrna with her husband, also an English teacher, and their three rescue dogs.