Set in the glamorous 1920s, A Fine Imitation is an intoxicating debut that sweeps readers into a privileged Manhattan socialite’s restless life and the affair with a mysterious painter that upends her world, flashing back to her years at Vassar and the friendship that brought her to the brink of ruin.
Vera Bellington has beauty, pedigree, and a penthouse at The Angelus–the most coveted address on Park Avenue. But behind the sparkling social whirl, Vera is living a life of quiet desperation. Her days are an unbroken loop of empty, champagne-soaked socializing, while her nights are silent and cold, spent waiting alone in her cavernous apartment for a husband who seldom comes home.
Then Emil Hallan arrives at The Angelus to paint a mural above its glittering subterranean pool. The handsome French artist moves into the building, shrouds his work in secrecy, and piques Vera’s curiosity, especially when the painter keeps dodging questions about his past. Is he the man he claims to be? Even as she finds herself increasingly drawn to Hallan’s warmth and passion, Vera can’t suppress her suspicions. After all, she has plenty of secrets, too–and some of them involve art forgers like her bold, artistically talented former friend, Bea, who years ago, at Vassar, brought Vera to the brink of catastrophe and social exile.
When the dangerous mysteries of Emil’s past are revealed, Vera faces an impossible choice–whether to cling to her familiar world of privilege and propriety or to risk her future with the enigmatic man who has taken her heart. A Fine Imitation explores what happens when we realize that the life we’ve always led is not the life we want to have.
When I originally heard that the novel would be set in the 1920s, I pictured flappers and a fun, carefree plot. Instead, A Fine Imitation focuses on a young socialite who is very caught up in society’s expectations and whose lifestyle and fashion are nowhere near flapper-like. The main character, Vera, complains a lot about the boorish company that she has to be around all of the time, but the constant lamenting makes her seem as boorish and boring as the people she criticizes. On one hand, the author’s decision to portray people who are elite, rather than flappers, was unexpected and intriguing for a 1920s story. On the other hand, the characters just were not as interesting as I had hoped. Vera’s best friend at the beginning of the novel has the right spark and sets a jovial tone, but when Vera is separated from her friend, she seems one-dimensional, other than the fact that she knows a lot about art and has a great appreciation for it. The painter who sweeps Vera off of her feet is not particularly likeable throughout the story because the reader feels suspicious of him until much later in the novel. By the end of the book, I was curious to find out what would happen to Vera and Emil; they did grow more likeable. As a person who appreciates art, I enjoyed all of the descriptions of art and how the descriptions revealed the way Vera saw the world. Vera is a character who is deeply moved by art. Overall, the novel did keep me curious until the end, but if you are a person who enjoys plot-driven writing, I would not recommend this novel for you. It definitely takes a slower, more self-examining pace. The amount of social rules are stifling, and the reader roots for Vera to break free. I received this novel from Blogging for Books in return for my honest review.