Note – I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. No affiliate links were used in this post.
About A Certain Age
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (June 28, 2016)
The bestselling author of A Hundred Summers brings the roaring twenties brilliantly to life in an enchanting and compulsively readable tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York society.
As the hedonism of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, an aviator and a hero of the Great War.
Though the battle-scarred Octavian is devoted to his dazzling socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her, Theresa resists. The old world is crumbling, but divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing remains a high-stakes affair. And there is no need: she shares a gentle understanding with Sylvo, the well-bred philanderer to whom she’s already married.
That is, until Theresa’s impecunious bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with Miss Sophie Fortescue, the naive young daughter of a wealthy inventor. Theresa enlists Octavian to check into the background of the reclusive Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the charming ingenue, even as he uncovers a devastating family secret.
As a fateful triangle forms, loyalties divide and old crimes are dragged into daylight, drawing Octavian into transgression . . . and Theresa into the jaws of a bittersweet choice.
Full of the glamour, wit, and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’s fiction, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.
I’ve always had an interest in historical fiction, but that interest dissipated for awhile. This year (thanks to a couple of TV shows that I watched) the historical fiction love has been strong and it’s been a great year to rediscover my love for it! There have been so many great books released this year–some of them set in my favorite era–and this is one of them. As soon as I saw that there would be a book tour for Beatriz Williams’s new book I knew I wanted to participate before I even read the synopsis. I think I’ve only read one of her novels (A Hundred Summers) but I loved that one so much and her other books sound so great that they’re all on my TBR (and need to be read soon!)
I was able to read a Q&A with Williams and the first question, along her answer, really caught my attention because this book seemed so realistic to the time period for me because this tension felt so strong:
Your novels are set in various time periods across the twentieth century, for the teens to the 1960s. Why did you choose 1920s New York as the setting for A Certain Age?
I can’t remember exactly when or why I had the idea to adapt Richard Strauss’s wonderful opera Der Rosenkavalier into a novel–I think I’ve always been fascinated by the character of the Marschallin, so exquisitely drawn and so timeless–but I knew I had to set my book in 1920s New York. This story all about the negotiation between old and new, sometimes delicate and sometimes fierce, on so many levels: youth versus middle age, new money versus old money, present versus past, and that’s exactly where we–as a civilization–found ourselves in 1920, in the wake of the First World War and the profound changes in science and art and technology and human society that swept in with it. And of course, New York in the Jazz Age is so glamorous and gritty and multifaceted, in the same way as Vienna in the 18th century, which was the opera’s original setting.
In addition to what felt like a very realistic look at 1920’s New York, I absolutely loved the characters and the depth that each one had. There was Theresa–who I didn’t dislike, but I also didn’t care about at first–who captured my heart as the novel went on due to all of the different things that she experienced in her life. And then there was Octavian and Sophie, who captured my heart right away and really made me feel the aftermath of the war and that tension between old and new.
I’m a little hesitant to say this next thought, because I think it’s more of an issue with my reading experience and not the book itself. I felt like there was a shift in the story about halfway through the book that I didn’t necessarily see coming (but it also wasn’t a shocking surprise). Like I said, I think this is more of an issue with my reading experience. As with Lagoon, when I started this book I’d read a chapter here and a chapter there, so with my disjointed reading experience from the start I think I missed a few cues that would have made it feel a bit more cohesive. This also didn’t bother me. I didn’t notice the shift for awhile, but once I did I stopped to reflect on it.
That shouldn’t stop you from picking it up, though! I absolutely loved this read and really enjoyed being immersed in this story and with these characters. I was sad when it ended and it was time to say goodbye. This book made me think of (and want to reread) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, so if you enjoyed any of those books, this might be the perfect book for you. Of course, even if you didn’t, but you like historical fiction and the 1920s, this is definitely a worthy book to check out. After I read A Hundred Summers, Williams became an author I was excited about it, and this book definitely cemented that.
And as a little added bonus, I also loved this answer from the Q&A and I think it’s wonderful advice for writers:
What kind of research do you do for your novels?
I read books, first of all, and not just history books. A novel written during that period will give you a wonderful idea of just how people lived and thought. And I’m lucky to be writing about a period for which there’s such an extensive visual record, in the form of photographs and films, which add so much texture in terms of dialogue and voice and accent and personal habits. Finally, when I’m off writing the book, I turn to Google for all those little details and fact-checks. It’s amazing what you find when you look up, say, “first class dinner menu rms majestic 1922 images”!
About Beatriz Williams
A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.