Title: The House of Velvet and Glass
Author: Katherine Howe
Available from: Amazon
I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway.
This book is described as being “atmospheric” and it is the first book I’ve read that I felt was actually what I would call “atmospheric.”
The story develops slowly and moves as languidly as the pipe dreams of the opium smokers. The stories of the members of the Allston family of Boston are interwoven until the threads come together to complete the fabric of the story. At the center is Lan Allston, the patriarch of the family, who sets out to make his fortune at sea. On shore leave in Shanghai, his experience in an opium den sets the course for the man he will become, for better or for worse. Then, on the Titanic, the final day of the lives of Lan’s wife and second child, Eulah are explored. And finally, Lan and his surviving children, daughter Sibyl and son Harley, struggle with the loss.
Sibyl is really the star of the story. One would think she would be left anchorless at the loss of her mother; in truth, her mother abandon her before she left to take Eulah on the “grand tour” in Europe. In today’s society, Sibyl would still be a young woman, just beginning to explore the possibilities of what her life could become. In the second decade of the 1900s, Sibyl is firmly on the shelf, her mother having given up on her prospects for marriage and already consigned her to be the spinster who stays at home and assists at home and socially as her much-older father ages. Her mother takes Eulah on the trip to Europe, deciding her prospects and personality are better – leaving Sibyl, post tragedy, with the warring emotions of the survivor. As Sibyl explores her spirituality through a medium, she also discovers the opium dens of Boston and her father’s secrets.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s well written, the setting is interesting and the characters are well developed. I found it to be more of a thinking piece; i.e., don’t expect a lot of action. I felt Sibyl’s struggle and, as slowly unveiled, Lan’s struggle. My heart broke for them both, yet the story ends with hope.
The Goodreads giveaway copy was a hardback book, which is beautiful. There’s something about an actual book that I find irresistable, and the cover and artwork on this one is especially tactile and visual. AT $3.99, the Kindle ebook is a great value if you enjoy a turn-of-the-century setting and a cerebral/atmospheric story.