I had the audiobook only (I have really no idea why I picked this one up), so can’t provide any of the many, many quotes that made me laugh.
The tone of the book was wonderful. Very irreverent in some parts and very intentionally unintentionally funny – i.e. very uptight Victorian attitudes were written so stiffly that they made me giggle. For large parts, this book read like a satire.
And this is where my problem with the book lay: the very light tone narration (each character gets a turn to tell the story from their point of view in alternating chapters) didn’t quite fit the story.
We first meet all of the protagonists when two Victorian London families meet in a graveyard, having bought adjacent family plots, and fall out over the hideousness of the adornments they each bought for the graves: a huge urn on one and a grotesque angel on the other.
We then follow the families as their daughters strike up a close friendship and see how their lives unravel, as the angels fall, as one mother suffers from depression, there is an unwanted pregnancy, etc., the engagement in politics as one member joins the suffragettes, a murder that gets absolutely not talked about, and so on.
There are a plethora of serious issues that Chevalier takes up in her book, but they all seem to get glanced over.
For example, the cause of the suffragettes is criticised by the household staff as being of no use to them because they would not get the vote under what the suffragettes were proposing (votes for “some” women, but not all at this stage) and the way that the suffragettes are portrayed is outrageously self-indulgent and actually leads to catastrophe. Yet, I as a reader found it hard not to take issue with the portrayal because even that criticism was left largely unexplained. I had a hard time following the author’s choices in this one.
I was missing some complexity and depth in this book which left me feeling that this was more of an exercise in creative writing (of historical fiction) than an actual story that had a point.
Still, I laughed quite a bit at some of the characters.