Monday, 16 July 2012

A Vintage Affair - Isabel Wolff - book review

I read this book a couple of weeks ago, when I needed a break from the dystopian books I've been devouring.  A Vintage Affair was light and sweet, exactly what I was looking for. Even if it made me cry!                                                 

A Vintage Affair stars Phoebe Swift as a just turned 30 woman who has opened her second-hand clothing store in September.  She doesn't buy just any second-hand clothing, she buys vintage clothing featuring top of the line designers.  I am not a clothes horse, and can't afford many any designer clothes - but like many of us, I suspect, I've drooled over pages of Vogue and Elle and I know the names of many of the designers today and yesterday.  Reading A Vintage Affair is like stepping into a salon where some of the most delightful, stylish and beautiful clothing is on display. In A Vintage Affair, Phoebe tries to match up the clothing to her clients - she is not interested in just selling the clothes, but in finding the right fit - the clothing that belongs to the person. The most special dresses are the cupcake dresses she sells, bright dresses from the 1950's, sent to her by a dealer in Texas. When the story opens, each of the dresses are hung up on the wall, and she says they are magical dresses - dresses where dreams can come true.  How the right people find the dresses, and what happens to each, is part of the magic of this story. Fairy-tale -that's what Phoebe calls the dresses, like the gowns the princesses wear in the Disney films, only these go just below the new.  I here confess that I loved the gowns in Disney, and spent many happy hours trying to decide which colours I would wear and when. This book is like an adult fairy tale. 

As with all fairy tales, there is some sadness, and darkness, and Phoebe can't outrun hers, as much as she tries.  Her best friend has died, and the reasons why she has died and why Phoebe blames herself, make up some of the dark part of the book.  The ending is a lovely surprise, as Phoebe learns how the shock of what happened to Emma has altered her memories surrounding the event. 

The other dark part is also a much darker story that evolves in the story of Mrs Bell, who is hiding a tragic story of her own in the history of a child's coat she hides in her wardrobe. WW 2 and France are involved here, so there is a real layer of history underlining this story, some tragic.  Just as there is in some of the clothing Phoebe buys from her various estate sales and sellers. Because this is a fairy tale, there are happy endings all around for those who deserve them, though there are many tears (at least from me) along the way.  As well, there is the discovery of love, and the things that love can bear. There is tragedy and farce in equal measure here, which makes what could have been a difficult story to read, a real pleasure.

All in all this is a charming story - I loved it, and it made me smile when I needed it.  I really enjoyed Phoebe and her mother, her  father, Annie who wanders in and ends up working at the store, Mrs Bell, and Dan and his dream of opening a theatre - quite a few of the characters have dreams of doing things and are pursuing them, which are part of fairy tales and magic and making dreams come true. I love all the clothing in her store.  I would love to find a store like that here!  Just to go in and gaze at the lovely vintage fashions from yesteryear, and hope the clothing finds a new life, just as Phoebe wants the clothes she buys for the shop to find a new owner as well.  Very sweet, and recommended for anyone who needs a lift on a down day.  Or some enjoyable reading for a summer's hot afternoon.

Here is a link to Isabel Wolff talking about the fashion research and  WW 2 and France research that went into her novel.


Kailana said...

On the one hand, I am not entirely sure this is for me. On the other hand, it sounds intriguing! I will add it to my list in case my library has it. :)

Susan said...

Kailana: I hope your library does! It really was enjoyable. I don't usually read chick-lit, which this would qualify for, except the history Mrs Bell relates makes it something more. I hope you can get it,I would be curious to see what you think of it.

Debi said... really did make this sounds enticing and charming, yet at the same time I'm not really sure if the book and I would mesh. Clothing is definitely not something I could give two hoots about, and I really know zilch about fashion design. Still...maybe...

Susan said...

Debi: I know next to nothing about clothing too! I recognize some names, but I don't fashion shop at all. I just love the idea of this store and how much Phoebe loves what she does. Clothing actually bores me to bits! lol this book made it fun :-) Though, I expect its' the fairy tale aspect (the right clothes for the person) that I like also.

Natalie_vintage_girl said...

I have heard lots of great things about this book. Nice review :)

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