Book Review: Newport
By: Jill Morrow
Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Page Count: 384
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction
Newport is a beautifully dark historical fiction laced with elements of mystery and the supernatural. I found myself enthralled by the time period and the complicated web that tied the characters together. This is a must read for those interested in the glitz, glamor, and preoccupation with the dearly departed of the 1920's.
The novel has several characters that play crucial roles. Newport opens as Adrian and Jim are making their way via ferry to the coastal town. These two are attorneys who have been summoned to redraft a will for one of their most powerful and wealthy clients, Bennett Chapman. Adrian and Jim soon learn that Bennett's children, Nicholas and Chloe, are livid about the proposed change to the will and their father's engagement to the much younger, Catherine Walsh. To round out the group, Amy Walsh, Catherine's niece has the ability to speak to the dead and Bennett's first wife won't stop sending messages to her family. A quest to prove that Bennett is in his right mind and his deceased wife is guiding his decisions from beyond the grave ensues.
The preoccupation with spiritualism dominated the nocturnal activities of many in the 1920's. After WWI, almost every family in the United States had been touched by loss. It only makes sense that people would cling to the hope brought by mediums that their loved ones were safe and could still communicate with the living. While I understand the need to believe in such activities, I know that many of the seances were merely shams created for monetary gain. To feed off someone's grief and pain seems loathsome to me.
As the various seances play out in Newport, the deceased Mrs. Chapman begins to reveal secrets about the house guests that will alter their lives forever. In the beginning, it was not clear to me if Amy was truly channeling Mrs. Chapman or if she was simply trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes to seal a marriage between her aunt and Bennett. I found this whole competent to be intriguing.
All of the characters in Newport, even the ones I found distasteful, are vivid and well formed. I felt like I was walking the halls of the lavish Newport estate and attending the seances right along side everyone.
I'm also attracted to stories with rich and vibrant settings. Newport delivers this in spades through both the historical details and the location. I have always wanted to see what the seaside escapes of the wealthy were like and I feel that this novel does a fair job of painting that picture. Class issues arise throughout this one as well as gender issues. As much as I often want to go back and experience things in a different era than my own, I am not sure that I could be happy in a time where women were not seen as the stewards of their own lives.
All in all, I highly recommend this one to fans of historical fiction who crave a little bit of the mystical. Jill Morrow kept me guessing as she weaved together the past and present. I would often think I knew how characters were connected only to be surprised by a new twist. I also have a longing to visit Newport after reading this one.
One Last Gripe: I wish that Newport had more of the gothic feel to it.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The flashbacks
First Sentence: The lighthouse on the shore flashed its beacon in time with each rolling heave of Jim Reid's stomach.
Favorite Character: Amy
Least Favorite Character: Nicholas
Following in the steps of Beatriz Williams and Amor Towles, this richly atmospheric, spellbinding novel transports readers to the dazzling, glamorous world of Newport during the Roaring Twenties and to a mansion filled with secrets as a debonair lawyer must separate truth from deception.
Spring 1921. The Great War is over, Prohibition is in full swing, the Depression still years away, and Newport, Rhode Island's glittering "summer cottages" are inhabited by the gloriously rich families who built them.
Attorney Adrian De la Noye is no stranger to Newport, having sheltered there during his misspent youth. Though he'd prefer to forget the place, he returns to revise the will of a well-heeled client. Bennett Chapman's offspring have the usual concerns about their father's much-younger fiancee. But when they learn of the old widower's firm belief that his first late wife, who "communicates" via seance, has chosen the beautiful Catherine Walsh for him, they're shocked. And for Adrian, encountering Catherine in the last place he saw her decades ago proves to be a far greater surprise.
Still, De la Noye is here to handle a will, and he fully intends to do so--just as soon as he unearths every last secret, otherworldly or not, about the Chapmans, Catherine Walsh . . . and his own very fraught history.
A skillful alchemy of social satire, dark humor, and finely drawn characters, Newport vividly brings to life the glitzy era of the 1920s.