The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
From the publisher:
Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Mad Men world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.
Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate détente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.
As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most.
Like everything else I’ve read by the extremely talented Beatriz Williams, I absolutely adored this novel. It has everything I love in stories like these: a fierce, smart female heroine (two in this case), dual story lines and narrators, a fascinating historical element, and a plot that never stops moving. I couldn’t stop reading about Vivian and Violet and their stories both intrigued me and held my attention equally.
Both Vivian and Violet suffered because of restrictions on and expectations of women in their respective time periods in history. I would argue that Violet suffered in a much deeper way, yet Vivian still had to deal with the consequences of defying the expectations of her family – expectations that wouldn’t have burdened her had she been born a man. Violet’s suffering, though, to me was tremendous and such a stark illustration of the sacrifices women have had to make throughout history to be successful in a career or anywhere outside a role of wife/mother. Violet was incredibly smart, a brilliant scientist, yet she was practically forced to submit to her older, “wiser”, husband, as he repeatedly abused her and took credit for her work. Because of this situation, Violet’s story was slightly more interesting to me than Vivian’s, but also more difficult to read. Honestly, her situation was just heartbreaking to me – I anxiously read her pages in desperation that she would find a way out of her husband’s clutches and into a better life.
What Williams always does so brilliantly in these dual narrative stories is bring them together at the end, and she did an amazing job with that here. I loved how she wrapped everything up for both Vivian and Violet and, while things didn’t work out perfectly, they both got what I most wanted for each of them. I so loved spending time with these Schuyler women and cannot wait to read the rest of this exciting trilogy from Williams. Highly recommended.