A Fine Imitation
By Amber Brock
Read by Julia Whelan
Category: Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction | Literary Fiction
Penguin Random House/Crown
Hardcover & Ebook | May 03, 2016 | 304 Pages
Penguin Random House Audio /Random House Audio
May 03, 2016 | 602 Minutes
About A Fine Imitation
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.
During most of this book I pretty much expected the main character, Vera, to jump from the penthouse in the apartment building her husband designed, built and owns.
I probably would have either become outlandish or done so. At fifty five, I come from a time far removed from Vera’s. While societal norms for women changed a lot between her time and mine, I still was raised with the idea that women grew up with a limited number of options. Since my childhood things have changed even more and many more barriers to equality of the sexes are falling, at least in the so-called “first world.”
When we think of countries and cultures that are “so behind” in their treatment of women, we need to remember that our own culture is still trudging along on the road to equality for all people regardless of the many factors that seem to affect its application.
I found Vera’s life so stifled, so limited, so confining that she would definitely fit the subject of the old song, “She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.” That cage was the cage of security offered by wealth and marriage. Today we call the the gilded cage, golden handcuffs.
Throughout the story, Vera clashes with her mother, who I think symbolizes the Victorian past. She is a cold, unloving, and cruel woman. She denies her creative daughter any softness, creativity. I am surprised by her less than wholehearted support of the beau most likely to propose. Another beau, was a symbol of everything Vera cannot have if she would stay in her family’s good graces.
Vera’s story flips between her time at Vassar and her married life about ten years later. Today we might say she suffers from clinical depression and that her mother and social circle is toxic. As the woman with the most access to money (but none of her own) she is the social leader of the building which is her little world.
When she meets the mysterious artist, Emil, she is inevitably pulled towards him, towards the art that gives her life meaning. His life is a lie, his secrets are dangerous. But, is her life any less a lie. At Vassar she makes a decision that, as she says, makes her a good daughter but a bad person. The guilt over it has held her down. She comes to terms with her husband’s secret; and even knowing it she has no power.
I found it hard to care about Emil or Vera, both are in cages of fear or security. At least Emil has done something about his. Can Vera make the leap through the opened door of opportunity? If she did she could live a happy life, but with no security. If she stays she’ll be secure but have no happiness.
The narrator does a great job with Vera’s and her mother’s voices — with all the women really. The men have limited range and except for accents sounded much the same. Vera is voiced with just the right amount of desperation.
What is ironic about the whole story is that in 6 years the Great Depression will strike and no one will have any security.