Tuesday, 28 January 2014
Author: Phillip Marguilies
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday Books
First Published: January 7, 2014
First Line: "My experiences in the April 1906 earthquake in san Francisco have led me to write this book, so I suppose I'll begin there."
Book Description from GoodReads: Based loosely on the life of the 19th-century prostitute of the same name, the book is written in the form of a two-volume memoir by one of San Francisco’s richest and most revered dowagers. In it, the heroine tells the story of her moral fall and material rise over the course of the century, carrying her from the farms, mills, drawing rooms (and bedrooms) of New York to the California gold rush.
Note: My sincere thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
My Review: I was in the mood for a big historical saga with grand characters, back stabbing family members, rich powerful people set in a tumultuous time ... the whole saga enchilada. Belle Cora is a grand historical saga set in the mid-1800's to the early 1900's and follows the life of Arabella Godwin. Arabella goes from a meek young girl of a fairly affluent New York family to someone who struggles to find her way in the world. Eventually Arabella becomes Belle, a very confident, strong and independent woman (who also happens to be a successful San Francisco madam).
I can see how some people could be turned off reading about the life of a prostitute/madam but Belle's story intrigued me and honestly, Belle Cora is much more than a story about prostitution. This is a story about strength, ingenuity and perseverance. Belle takes her hard knocks, makes bad choices and has some choices thrust upon her but in the end those issues only make her stronger. I will admit that there were several times when life in a brothel, even one run as well as Belle's, seem to be overly glorified.
Margulies excels at vividly describing life in NYC, as well a San Francisco in it's early days. As someone who has never learned much about the colonizing of San Francisco I found the descriptions so realistic that I could easily envision life there. Unfortunately, it was during Belle's time in San Francisco where I began to lose focus in the book. The book had a different feel to it at that point and my attention began to wane. It went from more of a character driven read to one steeped in politics -- politics which were unknown to this Canadian and I felt made the overall pace of the book lag.
One aspect that I was surprised to enjoy was the little hints at the future plot that Belle, as the narrator of the book, gave her readers. You'd think that giving tidbits about what was going to happen in the future would hinder the excitement of the book but it was the opposite. It was just enough information to get my interest piqued again and have me eagerly awaiting that point in the plot.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read filled with vivid historical descriptions, good character development and some gun fights, prostitutes and murder to round it all out.
Recommended for people who enjoy grand historical sagas.
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars