They say a name is everything especially in a country surrounded by rank and position. The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro details the live of Cate who recently returned to London from New York in attempts to escape her past. While her mother is on hiatus in Spain, Cate begins working for her Aunt Rachel at an auction house. In an attempt to revive her niece, Rachel sends Cate to Devon to value the contents of the Endsleigh House. This grand home was a romantic gesture to Irene Blythe from her husband; yet now it is a decrepit and crumbling property which will become a resort. As Cate enters this Victorian world she is thrust back in time to the World Wars and dominates women. Yet there is something particularly intriguing about the Blythe women and everything surrounding them.
As Cate and Jack –Rachel’s assistant- begin to catalogue the items Rachel stumbles a shoebox with secrets from their past and she confiscates them quickly. As she uncovers their secrets she becomes intrigued with every detail of their lives and the disappearance of Baby Blythe. This hidden shoebox includes- ‘an exquisite pair of dancing shoes from the 1930’s, a photograph, a dance card, and Tiffany bracelet. Each of these items links to important details and information about the Blythe sisters that Cate immerses herself into researching their stories. Instead of confronting her own problems Cate delves into this research in search of change and meaning which maybe she can submerse into her own life. After carefully piecing together each of the clues about the Blythe sisters Cate is able to learn more about herself. Yet the story of the Blythe sisters is not a happy one, it is rife with disappointment, destruction, addictive love, and elaborate distractions. Each of these brings Cate closer to a realization about her life and the troubles she has left behind in New York.
As I began this novel I found myself quickly enveloped into the Blythe sister’s mystery, I wanted to know what happened to these women and how could the triumph so readily. I particularly found it interesting that Tessaro included letters from Baby Blythe that helped prune the story and combine the information about Cate. In multiple flashbacks we see Cate’s transition from an up and coming painter to a demolished and heartbroken woman. Particularly at the close of the novel I was yearning for more about these women about how they are changing Cate’s life.
Tessaro’s writing is evasive when it should be and indulgent when it should be. I found myself guessing the identity of these women and much more to Cate’s. At the close of the novel I found myself guessing to the identity of the women as well as the woman in the nursing home. One important factor about the novel is the historical context surrounding it: Many women were sent to hospitals for no reason at all besides what they coined as hysteria to many unbelievable diseases. If you are looking for a novel to get lost in this is truly a good pick while it may not have a substantial amount of information it is intriguing and gripping.
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