Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: Gramercy Park by Paula Cohen

Gramercy ParkFor Mario Alfieri New York is just another step in furthering his successful opera career and he does not expect it to be any different than any other stop on his world tour. He definitely does not expect meeting a shy and mysterious Clara Adler in a house he considers renting and falling in love. Little does he know that this love will turn his whole world upside down and threaten to destroy the life he so painstakingly built from nothing.

Gramercy Park is a perfect book for a rainy weekend - the gloom outside your window will complement the drama of the story nicely and make the secrets hiding in the shadows all the more mysterious. Or may be you want to read it at the beach where the bright sun will dispel some of the gravity of the story. Either way, if you enjoy historical romance with a few Gothic touches I think you'll appreciate Paula Cohen's debut novel.
I expected a nice love story with may be a bit of mystery to spice things up so the traditionally Victorian setup of a helpless and desperate young woman rescued from a life of no prospects by a dashing and famous heart-breaker reformed by her beauty seemed very promising. That's when things became more interesting and more tragic than I anticipated. The stakes are high for the villains and Clara and Mario who unwittingly interfere with their secret desires must be destroyed, their reputations irrevocably damaged.
The pace of the novel is slower than I prefer but it was fitting for this story. I enjoyed the glimpses into the society of 19th century New York although sometimes the way things were horrified me and made me glad to live at a time when victims of abuse and tragedy aren't forced to hide their past for fear of ruining the lives of their loved ones, as if it were them at the root of it all. I also enjoyed the characters who appeared true to the period, their actions constrained by the conventions of the time even when they dared to challenge those conventions in the name of love. The villains were truly chilling and although I could tell from the very beginning that they weren't as benevolent as they tried to appear I could hardly imagine how deep their malice ran. The narrative voice and the language are perfect for this story and in alternating lyrical and dark the author successfully set the tone for the unfolding events.
This is an enjoyable book but I would not recommend it to younger readers - there were some very disturbing scenes and because of them if this were a movie I'd rate it R.

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