Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

Gossip by Beth Gutcheon
Series: Stand-alone
Published: March 20th, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins Imprint)
278 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Women’s fiction
Acquired this book: ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Note: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Purchase this book: Book Depository || Amazon}
Read a guest post by Ms Gutcheon on Where a Novel Comes From

The critically acclaimed author of Good-bye and Amen, Leeway Cottage, and More Than You Know returns with a sharply perceptive and emotionally resonant novel about all the ways we talk about one another, the sometimes fine line between showing concern and doing damage, and the difficulty of knowing the true obligations of friendship.

Loviah “Lovie” French owns a small, high-end dress shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Renowned for her taste, charm, and discretion, Lovie is the one to whom certain women turn when they need “just the thing” for key life events: baptisms and balls, weddings and funerals. Among those who depend on Lovie’s sage advice are her two best friends since boarding school days: Dinah Wainwright and Avis Metcalf. Despite the love they share for their mutual friend, there has always been a chilly gulf between Dinah and Avis, the result of a perceived slight from decades ago that has unimaginably tragic echoes many years later.

An astute chronicler of all that makes us human, Beth Gutcheon delivers her most powerful and emotionally devastating novel to date. Gossip is a tale of intimacy and betrayal, trust and fidelity, friendship and motherhood that explores the way we use “information” — be it true, false, or imagined — to sustain, and occasionally destroy, one another.

Gossip is told from the perspective of Lovie French, and it’s basically her story, along with the stories of her two best friends Avis and Dinah. Lovie was the thing that initially connected the trio - she was friends with Dinah and Avis, but the two weren’t friends with each other. It follows their stories - together and separately; their triumphs, failures, scandals, heartaches, and tragedies as individual people, and as friends.

The story launches right in, and the reader is bombarded with all this information about all these different characters that you barely get introduced to. I normally enjoy books that start out quickly, but in this case, it was incredibly confusing. It felt almost like when a friend tells a story about a friend you don’t know, and the story’s not related to anything in particular, and even though you might find it kind of interesting, you’d prefer to talk about people or things you both know.

I can understand what Ms Gutcheon was attempting with this story - gossip and stories about people’s lives, the effects our words and actions have, etc - and I think she executed it well, but because the style is so different, it makes it a bit hard to get into. At first, I found myself constantly trying to remember who was who, because it was hard to get a grip on people’s characters and personalities. They all had different personalities, but because of the way they were introduced, and the fact that it jumped around a lot time-wise, it was hard to get a grip on the characters.

In many ways, this reminded me of the Real Housewives series - a lot of spoiled and entitled rich women who don’t have much to do other than dress pretty and go to social functions, where they talk about other people. There were quite a few parts that really didn’t interest me, and I wasn’t sure what they really had to do with anything, but at the same time, it was all very believable and real.

There were moments when I connected with the characters, but I felt a lot of disconnect. The main thing that made this book readable for me was the fact that I have an insatiable curiosity about people, and love to see inside their lives. That’s the same reason I love reality TV - it may seem stupid and pointless to some people, but whether you approve or not, and whether you like it or not, that’s actually how those people live. That’s their day-to-day life, and I find it fascinating. It’s like getting a glimpse into how ‘the other half’ lives. I also enjoyed the writing style and Lovie’s voice; it felt very authentic. And I did appreciate the message - how our words and actions can have consequences we never imagined, both good and bad.

Overall, this book left me with mixed feelings. Although it was well-written, and had its interesting moments, I wouldn’t read another book like this. Maybe it’s because I’m a lot younger than the characters were for the main part of the story, and I haven’t lived through many of the experiences they have. I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend it - if you enjoy an inside look at people’s lives, give this one a shot.

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