Gwendolen by Diana Souhami

Gwendolen by Diana Souhami – 4 of 5 stars

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Gwendolen is written in the form of an undelivered letter to her love Daniel Deronda.  The letter recounts her life beginning from roughly the time just before she makes eye contact with Deronda while gambling feverishly at a roulette table in Homburg, Germany, to when Gwendolen is probably in her late twenties to early thirties.  Gwendolen Harleth is witty, bright, full of verve, beautiful and desirable to nearly every man she comes into contact with. Nevertheless, she’s aloof to the idea of marriage, but her family’s recent financial downturn resultant from their land agent’s negligence necessitates that she accept the proposal of Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, a man she neither loves or feels affection for, but whose riches can save her family from certain destitution. Repulsed and dejected by the idea of marriage to this man she runs away to Homburg with vacationing relatives and tries her hand at roulette where a man, Daniel Deronda, watches her scornfully and repulsively from a distance. Gwendolen is disturbed by this man’s judgment of her but is somehow equally charmed by him. She becomes so entranced by his gaze that her winning streak is lost along with her money. In a desperate attempt to acquire the much needed funds to help her family, she pawns a necklace given to her by her long deceased father, only to have it returned to her with a note from Daniel Deronda. Although she can’t seem to dismiss her thoughts related to this man, she is beckoned to return home immediately and face the inevitability of her circumstances, betrothal to Grandcourt. Gwendolen’s instincts are correct.  Grandcourt expects subservience, is abusive and taciturn, and harbors a ghastly secret. As she goes about life with her brutish husband she retains hope by reflecting on her one true but unrequited love interest, Daniel Deronda.

Overall Gwendolen was an enjoyable read.  I wasn’t initially pulled into the story, but as it progressed I found my interest piqued and was held almost to the end. The reason I say this is because there were characters introduced closer to the end of the book that I neither connected with nor particularly cared about. Perhaps this was because I wasn’t acquainted long enough with them, or they weren’t developed enough for me to become interested in them or see their relevance to the overall story. This is where the book began to drag a bit to me; to become disjointed. I would have appreciated it more had the last 40 pages or so of the book been condensed or perhaps omitted. However, I still think the book was well written and altogether noteworthy. The chronicling of Gwendolen’s adventurous life, along with the many initial friends and acquaintances that were a part of it certainly made for entertaining reading. Although she struggled much with decisions she’d made, I liked that by the end of the book she seemed to have matured to the point where she was finally at peace with herself and was able to put her internal demons to rest and get on with her life. If you enjoy historical novels you will probably like Gwendolen.
Thank you LibraryThing and Henry Holt and Company for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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