Reviewed by Antonella Townsend
So, at last, you can judge a book by its cover! I was expecting glitz and glamour and oodles of dramatic romance, and A Question of Trust did not let me down! This is, definitely, a champagne and strawberries novel.
The lovely, totally spoilt, Diana Southcott and her best friend, Wendelien, wine and dine and meet friends at The Ritz, The Dorchester, The Connaught Hotel (clients need a personal recommendation before making a booking here), The Oyster bar at Fortnum and Mason, and many other upmarket venues in London.
But there is so much more to this novel than illustrious settings, beautiful people, and dramatic romance. Penny Vincenzi has researched her latest novel with great care. She details a ‘who’s who’ in London, from 1936 to 1955, in politics, medicine, education, the law, fashion models and photographers. Snippets of historical fact weaved into the narrative absorb readers into the era. Like Winston Churchill temporarily claiming Claridge’s Hotel as Yugoslavian territory, in order that Crown Prince Alexander would be born on his native soil. And, bizarrely, details of the Ascheim-Zondek frog test that predicted early stage pregnancy. Readers feel they’re sipping an exotic cocktail, listening in to intriguing conversations, when in reality, probably sprawling, on the couch in trackies.
But it wasn’t all fun, frogs and eccentric politicians. If life for females was narrow, for homosexuals it was downright dangerous. These were unenlightened times, and we see some brave characters suffering and attempting to change the status quo.
Through the main character, Tom Knelston, readers appreciate how a working class boy has to fight for every inch of advantage and personal gain. Nothing is prescribed when your father is a postman.
On the other side of the class divide, well-trodden paths circumscribe a young life, particularly for girls. Diana Southcott is no exception, she is expected to marry and not take too long about it.
The only thing Tom and Diana have in common is the small Hampshire village in which they were born. But oddly their paths cross, again and again!
Diana marries Johnathan, a man she does not love, thinking she will live a glamorous life in London, enjoying her socialite friends. Her husband prefers the country life and she ends up on his estate, and miserable, in Yorkshire. Wendelien comes to the rescue. She introduces Diana to people in the fashion industry, and the beautiful Diana becomes a model. This gives her a leave pass to spend time in London, where more than one, almost ruinous, liaison takes place.
Tom is clever, idealistic, ambitious, (and oh so good looking) and, sadly, tormented by grief. He is working hard to fulfill his life’s ambition and become a Labour Member of Parliament. He marries middle class Alice, who is a nurse. Alice trained at the famous St. Thomas’s Hospital, so is well acquainted with the British health system. Tom is campaigning energetically for a National Health Service to be established, but, when his son becomes dangerously ill, he is put in an invidious position. In fact, Tom is juggling other tricky issues in his life, all of his own making, and all of which could ruin him.
The plot, and threads of several sub-plots, links a large cast of characters together. Main characters and minor ones are either related or known to one another through other characters, or via their profession. Penny Vincenzi introduces them all in such a way that the reader does not become over-whelmed, or even need to refer to the character list at the beginning of the book. Readers are also skillfully connected to the era via real historical figures. They might get a brief mention, or, like Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, the Labour Minister for Health (1945-51), who plays the part, indirectly, of Tom’s political role model. In this way the novel is well constructed.
Just one slight historical blip, the term ‘homophobic’ was used in dialogue that was taking place in 1955 (p.379), however, ‘homophobic’, was introduced by psychologist George Weinberg, in the mid-sixties. Other than that it was all very true to form.
A Question of Trust is Penny Vincenzi’s nineteenth novel. The first was published in 1989. Clearly, she is a huge publishing success. Her career began in the lending library of Harrods, Knightsbridge, leaving this position to attend a secretarial college with a department of journalism. She began her career as a junior secretary for Vogue, working her way to being a Fashion and Beauty Editor on magazines such as Woman’s Own, Nova and Honey, before becoming a Deputy Editor of Options and Contributing Editor of Cosmopolitan.
I really enjoyed A Question of Trust. It is essentially a lovely nostalgic yarn. The plot, sometimes predictable, also had a few shocks, there were tear-inducing moments, and a, mainly, ‘happy-ever-after’ ending.
By Penny Vincenzi
$55.00; 594 pp