‘The Decision’ – Penny Vincenzi
A love affair … between self-made property tycoon Matt Shaw and dazzling fashion editor Eliza Clark, spanning sixties London, the extravagance of Milan and the glamour of New York.
A marriage … that’s both passionate and difficult, as Matt and Eliza’s lives become irrevocably divided and entwined with others: charming advertising man Jeremy Northcott; flamboyant Italian fashion icon Mariella Crespi; Matt’s sister Scarlett, who has her own complicated love affairs. And then there’s Louise, Matt’s tough and sassy business partner, as successful as he is and fighting for her future.
A child … Emmie, adored, precocious and ultimately the victim of her parents’ doomed marriage, she holds them together and drives them apart.
The decision … which is agonising and desperate, and taken in the divorce courts – where truths will be told, secrets revealed and reputations shattered. And at the heart of it all lies the fate of a little girl.
Just like the first Vincenzi novel I read, this large tome (nearly 900 pages!) starts out with a character list. Not wanting to be daunted, I ploughed ahead anyway and found myself enjoying this novel that reminded me in many ways of A Question of Trust.
Once again, this is an example of “safe”, pretty light-hearted fiction. Following a very similar vein to her other novel, we focus on several characters over a span of about twenty years: 1950s-1970s. Very quickly you feel close to the characters, so that in the end, you feel like you are reading about family! This reflects the depth and focus of Vincenzi’s writing, whilst also allowing for again, such a long novel.
Eliza, one of the main protagonists, is involved in the fashion industry. The attention to detail shows a dedication to research on the topic and for me, this helped bring this decade alive for me, particularly as I have limited knowledge of London during the ‘Swinging 60s’. Indeed, it is an interesting portrayal of women’s role in the workplace at this time: a conflict between the traditional belief of stay at home mothers, versus a radical concept of career-driven women. The conflicts that Eliza, Scarlett and Louise encounter made me feel so frustrated but I cannot imagine how it felt to be living in such a time where patriarchy dominated! As such, I found these women to be generally admirable characters, especially Louise – having to persevere in a male-dominated industry. On the other hand, Matt’s traditional, narrow views are frustrating to a modern audience, making it easy for him to become the disliked character of the story.
The characters are generally very likeable and Vincenzi has a spectrum of personalities that should appeal to a wide audience. The opening of each chapter is cleverly ambiguous because you are not sure which character it is focusing on. I always assumed it followed straight on from the end of the previous chapter but this was not always the case. A clever way of writing and a way to keep such a long novel feeling fresh and appealing.
During moments of tension and excitement, the plot breaks become more frequent, thereby quickening the pace significantly. I even found myself sobbing during the second part of the novel, because it was so sad. So well-written, the story really got to me on an emotional level and, well, crying over a book is not something I do very often, so it’s definitely a credit to the writer.
Eliza, one of the main characters, faces many changing times over the course of the novel. The final part of the story, titled ‘The Divorce’ is a very dark time as the divorce case becomes very gritty. I found the final settlement quite unbelievable and disappointing and found that, after all that had preceded it, the author could have written something more believable and encouraging. That being said, whilst the final thirty-odd pages post-divorce settlement felt like Vincenzi was padding out the plot, it was a happy ending for all, albeit slightly forgettable.
A four star rating to reflect such a enjoyable story, despite some of its flaws. I had a few gripes with how Vincenzi developed the story (I could not get in to Mariella’s storyline and felt that Charles became “dumped” from the story unfairly), but on the whole, liked reading this. Reminding me of the genre that my lovely, amazing Nan used to read, I certainly will find another Vincenzi…. just maybe next time it will be a little shorter!
Book Bingo category completed: A book with more than 500 pages.