Review: The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
So, first off, some good news - as I was sitting down to write this review, my dad texted to tell me my younger brother passed his commercial FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) checkride. Basically, to those of you not versed in the technical details of the FAA's licensing regulations for pilots (as I was not until three years ago), my baby brother is now one step closer to becoming a fully-fledged airline pilot! I am a very excited and proud big sister, even though I have a hard time reconciling my baby brother (who's obviously not a baby anymore, he'll be 22 this spring; but in my head he'll always be 10) with someone who flies planes for a living.
Anyway. Back to the bit that you're all actually interested in.
The Glittering Hour, by Iona Grey, was my December 2019 BOTM. My BOTM picks very, very rarely miss (for example, of the 39 books I've gotten through that service, only 5 of them were misses - and unfortunately I have negatively reviewed yet another one this blog). And The Glittering Hour wasn't quite a miss, exactly; but it also wasn't a hit. It all washes out to a pretty mediocre book in my opinion, which is a shame, because it has all the ingredients for the type of story that I love: a Lady Chatterley's Lover type doomed love affair, glitzy London society, trauma and heartbreak from World War I... and yet, and yet, none of it quite adds up to a good book. This book turns around the love story between Lawrence Weston - a poor, bohemian wannabe photographer - and Miss Selina Lennox, a member of the Bright Young Thing set in London that gets photographed in all the papers for attending all the fancy parties and such.
The writing isn't great. It's not bad writing, it's just not great. It's all very obvious, especially the dialogue - almost as if Iona Grey took her outline notes for her characters, with the notes she'd made about their motivations and their personality traits, and just put that into dialogue without bothering to craft anything believable or that felt true to life. Plus, very annoyingly, the only discernible personality trait of the main female character is that trope, which I hate both in books and in real life, of "but she's not like other girls!" It was also incredibly annoying how easily Lawrence and Selina were convinced to stay apart, and how easy they came back together at the end - right before she dies of breast cancer.
Ultimately, I think that's what bothered me most about this. None of the characters actually feel like they went on journeys, or grew at all, or learned anything. It's told, many times throughout the book, that Selina is troubled because she's grieving from her brother's death during World War I, and had a difficult relationship with her mother, and had an eating disorder as a teenager. Okay, yeah, sure - but all of it is told, none of it actually feeds into the way she behaves during the book in any meaningful way, and her motivations always feel paper-thin and incredibly flat. Especially her motivations for marrying a member of her own class and walking away from Lawrence Weston - she just says she's going to leave, and then she does, and then they have one last night together, she gets pregnant, and then that's it until he, miraculously, finds out about her cancer and they come back together just before she dies when he finds out he's now responsible for their secret love child. It's all entirely melodramatic without feeling like any of it is earned, by either the characters or the writing style. Also - stupidly floral and falsely poetic sex scenes. I'm all for sex scenes painted in metaphor and innuendo, but in that case I better really believe that the two characters are in love. That doesn't apply here - I never for a moment believed that Selina and Lawrence actually loved each other, because there was nothing written to show that; I was just told that they did.
Plus, if you're going to attempt to do a Lady Chatterley's Lover romance, then lean into the grit of that trope! I love me a bit of Essex rough, especially in my smut. I hate this thing authors do where they feel like they can only write a 'proper grown-up romance fiction' if they keep the smut out of it. I love a well-written sex scene as much as the next gal, but Iona Grey was trying to have it both ways, by writing smut and also being considered a fiction writer instead of a romance one. And so her attempts at lyrical smut fall flat, and grate rather than soften. And she's just not a good enough writer to pull it off. If you're going to refer to sex as a 'symphony of joining souls', then you'd better make damn sure you know what you're doing.
All in all, I would characterize this as a passable attempt at a written soap opera. It's a fine read, and goes by quite quickly, but remains a very mediocre book. I did get choked up at the end, but I got choked up because Grey was coating on the sad so thickly she was bound to land at least one emotional punch, through sheer quantity of them rather than quality of writing or emotional nuancing.
If you're in the mood for something soapy and not too difficult that makes you roll your eyes at the moments that are supposed to be emotional and soaring and uplifting, then go for this. If you want a good romance, then maybe give this one a pass.