WARNING: This book review contains spoilers. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know details about the plot and ending of the novel.
I’m seriously behind on my book club reviews! The American Heiress was my May pick and it was an entertaining little novel. Nothing deep or thought-provoking but it was tasty fluff so far as fluff goes. The titular American heiress is the young, beautiful, and obscenely rich Cora Cash. Her parents are nouveau riche meaning they earned their money while the rest of Manhattan society inherited theirs. Cora’s mother is a scheming social climber who is determined to marry Cora off to an Englishman with a title since that’s the only real way to best the mamas of the Manhattan elite who look down their noses at the Cash family.
We know from the very first pages of the novel that Cora gets her duke, so the set up to their meeting is slightly tedious. We go through dozens of pages describing a summer ball, a flirtation with rich boy/wannabe artist Teddy, Cora’s mom catching on fire…Yes, you read that right. Cora’s mom rigs her ball gown up with lights for the fancy summer ball and she ends up on fire. She is badly scarred by the accident and wears a veil to conceal her face throughout the novel. We finally make it to England only to be treated to more details of dinners, dresses, horse rides, and manners. Daisy Goodwin is definitely no Edith Wharton when it comes to painting a picture of Gilded Age excess. Goodwin does a nice job describing outrageous appetizers like lark tongues in aspic and Cora’s toilette routine but she doesn’t quite succeed in pulling us into the era. Of course, Edith Wharton had the major advantage of actually living during the Gilded Age….so I guess I can forgive that flaw.
One thing I can’t forgive is the dissatisfying resolution of the novel. We’re given hints from the first that all is not right with Cora’s Duke (Ivo is his name) and I’d hoped for a bigger climax or scandal, but the drama sort of dies quietly. The plot just fell flat for me. It’s definitely not a bad book and is probably better than most, but I’d rather have a good mystery or a cleverly crafted plot. I’ve been reading a lot of Kate Atkinson lately and that woman is a master of creating mood and jumping skillfully from point to point. Her writing makes The American Heiress look like the Velveeta of literature.
The really bright point in this novel is the subplot of Cora’s maid Bertha. I was fascinated by the lifestyle of servants and especially the differences between British and American servants. I did wish at several points that Bertha would give Cora a much-needed slap, but sadly it was not meant to be. Cora continued to play the cliche romantic heroine (bad girl blinded by her love to mystery man) much to my frustration.
Pick up The American Heiress for a plane ride or to read by the pool because it’s the perfect kind of fluff to go along with those activities. It’s not going to challenge your brain but it will entertain and it’s better than watching Big Brother or some other crap that’s on TV in the summer.
Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Dark and Twisty Meter: Low on Dark, Low to Medium on Twisty
Page Turner Rating: Low