Friday, February 12, 2016

Book Review - Barbara Taylor Bradford's The Cavendon Women

The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Last we saw the Inghams and Swanns they were drifting apart, especially Miles and Cecily. Miles had just told Cecily that despite their plans he must marry for duty, not love, as the unexpected heir of Cavendon. In the intervening years Miles has grown more unhappy in a marriage that is a sham, and the chances of an heir with his wife are now nonexistent. Meanwhile Cecily Swann has made herself a household name with her sense of style and her line of clothes and accessories. But the time has come for the disparate members of these two intertwining clans to come together. Miles's father, the Earl of Mowbray, has called the family back to the ancestral pile under the auspices of a family reunion, when in fact it's for his wedding. For all the years the Swanns have served the Inghams there has never been an officially sanctioned romantic alliance between the two; that is about to change. The Earl is set to marry Charlotte Swann, the love of his life.

From Miles and Cecily's point of view this marriage changes everything. Perhaps with the removal of a certain unwanted wife they might get their happily ever after? But Miles and Cecily aren't the only ones looking for love, three of the four Cavendon Dees have not had the best of luck with their love lives and hopefully that is about to change. Dierdre has caught the eye of the American business partner of her brother-in-law, Dulcie has a thing with England's most famous actor, while DeLacy, still licking her wounds from her divorce, has aroused the interest of her mother's sexually voracious husband as well as a famous painter he commissioned to paint her. But sorting out their love lives is one thing, sorting out the financial crisis facing Cavendon and the world is another. Can the Cavendon luck hold out with the help of the faithful Swanns?

When I finished the first book in this series, Cavendon Hall, I openly questioned whether a second volume would work given that what drove the first book was resolved. I of course speak of the continuing danger posed to Lady Daphne from her rapist, who was subsequently killed in World War I. The book worked because of the danger, not to the house, but the menace in the woods that threatened the womenfolk and virtually emanated off the page. I'm sorry, but worrying about the roof of the north wing collapsing or a burst pipe in a bathroom doesn't offer the same sort of tension. Bradford tried to recapture some of this feeling with the Dees's step-father, Dr. Lawrence Pierce. While Pierce had great potential with his womanizing ways and his lust for making DeLacy his conquest, he never became as dangerous as he could have been. I can see him as a Jack the Ripper type character that offs his paramours after he is finished with them, but instead we have only one lackluster murder to lay at his door. And he even made it look like a heart attack. How lame is that?

But this volume seemed more concerned with everyone overcoming the odds and being happy and beautiful with everything working out just right because that's how it's supposed to be instead of creating a plot or any driving force to the narrative. This is like Downton Abbey on happy pills where everyone sits around in a luxuriously appointed room complimenting each other on how pretty and lucky they are. "I'm so pretty and happy! How are you, oh the same darling? Fabulous." It's not that it's not a happy getaway from any semblance of reality, because there is that aspect, it's just that after awhile it's so much sameness that you, as the reader, could be writing it. Sip some tea, comment on how talented they all are, have a false alarm about loosing the house, and back to fabulous. This sameness is problematic when it comes to differentiating the Dees. Firstly, naming all your daughters with "D" names is so very lame I want to puke. But more than that, it's hard to distinguish them because they are pretty much the same. I actually created new names for them all, and I don't think Bradford would like her characters being labelled by their character traits, I know lesbian, I mean Dierdre, would probably agree.

What I found worrying about the characters in this volume was that while the Inghams and the Swanns have this immutable bond the rest of the world can go to hell in their eyes. They ruthlessly fire any staff that isn't a Swann by birth or by marriage. I'm sorry, but is it just me who views this as rather heartless? They really aren't that badly off and manage to come through everything OK but during this time of economic depression they close ranks and push people, whose only fault is that they aren't a Swann, out into the cold cruel world. What with their love of their looks and their exclusivity these two families aren't coming across as people you'd want to spend your time with, they're coming across as "mean girls." They are totally the rich clique at school wearing Lacoste who you avoided because they were so mean and vicious about everything from your hair to your clothes. In fact, getting onto that whole clothes angle... Cecily is setting all the trends and making sure her friends have the best clothes while customers have to wait. Yeah, they really are an evil clique. So why do we like reading about them? Is it because we always wanted to be on the inside looking out? Oh dear, I'm really starting to question why I like this book.   

Getting away from the characters and onto Bradfords writing style, I find it very haphazard. She's SO SPECIFIC about certain things but can't be bothered about others. Yes, she might have her knowledge base she's drawing on, but the least she could do is try right? You've by now guessed that there has to be one specific moment that made this dawn on me, and oh yes, there was. Bradford luxuriates in her details about the clothes Cecily designs, lavishing detail on everything from Juliet caps, which Cecily made popular, to the fur edging on a cape, so white and warm! So what happens when another artistic field is ventured into? Say painting. Let's tackle Travers Merton shall we? He's the artist Lawrence Pierce hires to paint DeLacy in his ongoing seduction only to have Merton steal DeLacy from his grasp. So Merton obviously has a studio, "the studio was a spacious room with big windows at one end, and filled with with perfect light." So what is perfect light? "Just the kind of light a painter required, and couldn't work without." Oh? So is that North facing windows or what? Cause I'd really like to recreate this perfection in my own studio space. Gaw. If you're going to be that vague just don't even mention the light at all. Or at least tone down the descriptions of the clothes to even it out.

The clothes and Cecily are actually a problem for me. The kind of big problem that keeps getting bigger. Her success is just booming. Like incomprehensibly booming. Yes, she's a smart business woman to capitalize on her success, much like Brandford's other famous heroine and Cecily's friend, Emma Harte, has done. But there comes a point when how much is too much? She has bags that are more coveted than Birkin, a wedding boutique, and a whole line of Cavendon knock-off jewellery. In fact, it's at the jewellery that I really went, enough is enough. It's like Cecily is trying to capitalize on her success like PBS off Downton Abbey. There's just a tipping point, and with the merchandising of Downton Abbey for me it was when they started doing jewellery. Since then they have expanded to cooking kits, wrapping paper, teas, hats, you name it. There's such a thing as oversaturation and while I've totally reached that point with the Downton Abbey merchandising, I have also reached that point with the glittering career of Cecily Swann. I'm actually looking forward to the next installment, seeing as this book ended with the stock market crash that triggered the great depression. How will her jewellry go over with the masses when there's not enough money to put bread on the table? I just want her to be knocked down to earth. Just a little. Because perfection isn't perfection without a little flaw to set it off. I want to see Cecily's flaw.


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