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- Published on Amazon.com
This elderly novel is interesting to read, if you don't mind heaps of coincidences, and I enjoyed it first many years ago, but even then it always left me with a bad aftertaste, which has increased with age.
Anna, a beautiful young Russian girl and a talented pianist, has to leave old Russia when the empire starts to break up. She goes to England, has a classic "great romance" with a British aristocrat, is rejected by him, and ends up in New York as a widow with one daughter, having married a kind young Englishman who is killed in WWI. Interesting story so far!
The problem is that Ms. Gaskin picks the wrong heroine to focus her novel on. It begins with and centers on the adventures of Nicole, Anna's daughter, whose narcissism, perpetual discontent, and need to punish others make her an unattractive figure. We meet her as an adolescent when she finally figures out that her mother actually has a life of her own, earning money to keep them both alive, and to keep Nicole in a fancy boarding school away from the slum Anna pretends to live in. Anna finally reveals her secret life to Nicole. She also accuses Nicole of being a snob and alludes indirectly to Nicole's selfishness. Nicole is given a chance to display both traits when the wealthy in-laws of her father summon her to England to be a debutant. Anna bows out of her daughter's life.
The rest of this complicated novel gives us brief glimpses of Anna, who, at the age of a grandmother, moves to L. A., learns to be a secretary and real estate agent, and supports herself, even buying and learning how to drive a pre-WWII Ford! However, the story is fully focused on Nicole, who kvetches, poses, and manipulates her way through pampered Aristocratic British life, playing the tease with all the "eligible" young men she can find. She complains about her beautifully redecorated bedroom because it is pink, which color she doesn't like. She complains about the delicious meals she has, because they do not have enough variety. She wants to be babied and taken care of, and for a time she is, but that ends, and she must look elsewhere for satisfaction.
The ending of the long book shows Nicole' success in finding and keeping her real true love, the magnificent historic estate named--you guessed it--Lynmara! She is still kvetching because her children want her to sell it, but she's fooled them, and she's taken her revenge on many other people as well. We hear only briefly, mostly off-stage, of Anna's solid, hard-won happiness.
Many Lady novelists besides Ms. Gaskin portray houses as more important, and easier to love, than people--Du Maurier's "Rebecca" shows the most famous example of of the erotic mansion--but I don't find that theme appealing. In defense of Ms. Gaskin, even she seems to find her heroine's behavior odd, and in one of her other novels, "Blake's Reach," she goes out of her way to show that human love is more important than lust for antique roofs and marble halls.