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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wrapped Up Too Neatly

A Vintage Affair
Isabel Wolff

Bantam, 2010

Opening a vintage clothing shop in London where she sells classic clothing, Phoebe Swift works to keep up with her unexpected success while struggling with her best friend's death, a rivalry between two suitors, and her mother's cosmetic surgery fixation.

Every dress has a history, and so does every woman. Her friends are stunned when Phoebe abruptly leaves a plum job at the prestigious Sotheby's auction house to open her own vintage clothing shop in London - but to Phoebe, it's the fulfillment of a dream. In the sunlight-flooded interior of Village Vintage, surrounded by Yves Saint Laurent silk scarves, Vivienne Westwood bustle skirts, cupcake dresses, and satin gowns, Phoebe hopes to make her store the hot new place to shop. For Phoebe, each vintage garment carries its own precious history. Digging for finds in attics and wardrobes, Phoebe is rewarded whenever she finds something truly unique, for she knows that when you buy a piece of vintage clothing, you're not just buying fabric and thread - you're buying a piece of someone's past.

But one particular article of clothing will soon unexpectedly change her life. Thérèse Bell, an elderly Frenchwoman, has an impressive clothing collection. But among the array of smart suits and couture gowns, Phoebe finds a child's sky-blue coat - an item with which Bell is stubbornly reluctant to part. As the two women become friends, Phoebe will learn the tale of that little blue coat and it’s story will help her deal with her own loss and allow her to love again.

This chick lit/romance novel wants desperately to be deeper than it actually is. While it’s very enjoyable to read, it wraps itself up a little too neatly at the end with some major plot devices that masquerade as coincidences that are far too unbelievable to swallow. Also, the narration is unbalanced: we only have Phoebe’s account of her friend’s death which we have no reason to suspect is not true, yet later her ex-fiancé reveals other details about the incident that were conveniently left out earlier in the narration. Were there clues earlier in the story that might indicate Phoebe is not to be trusted? I’d have to read it again to see, but I do wonder if this revelation was inserted in order to finish the book in a convenient “meaningful” way. Up to this point, Phoebe is a very likeable and sympathetic person, yet the ending exposes a mean person who punishes other people unjustly for her own mistakes.

While I enjoyed reading this book, I have to admit the ending left a negative impression of the experience. The setting of a vintage clothing shop is unique, but would this concept be so successful in this economy? Hard to tell. I loved the supporting characters, including Dan, her colorblind love interest and her mum, who continually debates new cosmetic procedures to try. I’m just not that keen on Phoebe. Read it and tell us what you think!


Other books by this author
Rescuing Rose (2002)
Behaving Badly (2003)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani (2003)
The daughter of an Italian immigrant family in 1950 Greenwich Village, Lucia Sartori pursues a career in the fashion industry until she falls in love with a handsome stranger, who must win over her traditional family to marry her.

Home Again by Kristin Hannah (1996)
Struggling with her rebellious daughter and her conflicting feelings for a soul-seeking priest and a cynical man, cardiologist Madelaine learns to overcome past betrayals when a tragedy brings them all together.

Alison’s Automotive Repair Manual by Brad Barkley (2003)
Two years after losing her husband, Alison reluctantly agrees to move out of her sister's West Virginia home as soon as she fixes--and learns how to fix--a 1976 Corvette that has been rusting in the garage.

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