Thursday, August 5, 2010
A Vintage Affair, by Isabel Wolff. A Review by Angie
Every once in a while you find a book that really moves you, and in this case, this book moved me to tears. A Vintage Affair is the story of Phoebe Swift, an ex-Sotheby’s employee who decides to open a vintage clothing shop called Village Vintage. Fashion lovers will delight in this name dropping feast of designers and designs from the 1920’s and forward. The clothes are a large part of the story, but not in the ways you would imagine.
After the death of her best friend, Emma, Phoebe keeps herself busy with her new shop while trying to ignore the guilt that’s eating away at her. Phoebe is a complex character; one who is very mature and composed, but riddled with conflicting emotions inside. The story starts off with the evening she met Guy, her ex-fiancé, who at the time was seeing Emma, her now deceased best friend. Phoebe and Guy hit it off, and while she feels the guilt of falling for a guy Emma likes, Guy assures her he never pursued a romantic relationship with Emma. Phoebe and Emma grow apart, mostly because of Emma’s inability to handle the relationship her friend has with Guy. Phoebe, not wanting to ruin the romantic evening Guy had planned for them on Valentine’s Day, promises a very ill Emma she will come and check on her the next morning. Emma is dead before Phoebe arrives, and she spends the next year blaming Guy for persuading her to put Emma off so they can enjoy their evening, or so she remembers.
As a vintage shop owner, Phoebe finds herself in the company of many interesting people wanting to sell their expensive designer clothing. She also wonders about the clothes she buys, and what stories they could tell. Phoebe makes the acquaintance of Mrs. Bell, an eighty year old French woman who is very ill and wanting to sell some of her elegant designer clothes. Over time and a few visits, Phoebe and Mrs. Bell become confidants; Phoebe relating her guilt at Emma’s death, and Mrs. Bell telling her the story of her childhood in Avignon, France, and her friend Monique, who was taken by the German police to Auschwitz. Mrs. Bell tells the heartbreaking story of Monique hiding from the Germans in an abandoned barn while she brought food to her as often as she could. The two share guilt as Mrs. Bell relates her sorrow at not making it out to the barn with her blue coat for Monique before the police find her. Phoebe has the overwhelming desire to find out what happened to Monique, despite Mrs. Bell's indication she has searched in the past. A surprising clue finds Phoebe through her shop, and points her in the right direction to find the long lost friend of Mrs. Bell.
During all this Phoebe politely turns down the attentions of Dan, a friendly reporter for the local paper, while in a relationship with Miles, a much older retired solicitor. The two meet at Christie’s while bidding on a vintage gown, Phoebe for her shop, and Miles for his spoiled daughter. The relationship with Miles is as frustrating as it is sweet, as Phoebe withstands the full force of a sixteen year old daughters’ hostility for her Dad’s much younger girlfriend. Miles learns too late his darling daughter has serious entitlement issues, and Phoebe finally stands up to him about his blindness when her grandmother’s ring disappears. Dan then becomes a more interesting prospect, one that’s been there all along, she realizes.
I cannot even begin to explain how moved I was by this book. The emotional rollercoaster Phoebe is subjected to is intense at times, but she handles it with much grace. There is much, much more to the story than what I’ve written, as well as a large cast of secondary characters and other plot lines that add so much to the book. In addition to relationship issues, Phoebe must deal with her parent’s separation and her father becoming a daddy again at age sixty-two. The village is full of interesting characters that are only slightly delved into, but make excellent additions to the story. Wolff’s writing is perfection; the blending of Phoebe and the other characters creates a truly well-written novel. A story of love, betrayal, guilt and finally peace, A Vintage Affair is definitely one to pick up.