The Debutante – Kathleen Tessaro

Big houses invariably have their secrets and Endsleigh is one of them. Everything is now being sold as there is no longer anyone who is alive to inherit. Enter Cate and Jack who are tasked to catalogue all the items for auction. 

Cate has her secrets as she arrives back from New York and goes to help her aunt, the owner of an auctioneer’s and valuers. Retreating into work and another world, the world of Endsleigh to escape her thoughts. They are suddenly all exposed for everyone to see and the glimmer of happiness may be lost forever.

Jack, faithful employee of Cate’s aunt is also using work to escape his thoughts. That the woman he loved was not being honest even down to the day she was tragically killed. Can Jack let his barriers down and think about loving someone else, even if they have a past which is too close to home for him to deal with?

As Cate and Jack set about their work, a discovery by Cate means that the mystery of the house is carried on a lot longer. It belonged to Irene Blythe, debutante of the nineteen thirties who had an even more famous sister – Diana ‘Baby’ Blythe who made a mark on society and whose mysterious disappearance has never been solved. Will Cate discover the truth and perhaps find her true self? Or will past secrets never be buried and remain a problem for all those left?

This is an excellent book which built slowly on the story of both the Blythe sisters, (very much in the ilk of the Mitfords) and also the friendship between Cate and Jack. It deals with some rather raw subjects, death, bereavement, unrequited love, forbidden love and forced love in both the present story and the past. The past is told through the form of letters which gave an interesting angle and made a change from the flashback or alternate chapters in telling the story. This combined with the story being divided into three parts and there being no chapter definition meant we were flowing through the tale. It did not ever become fast paced but remained a page turner for me.

This is not some fluffy escapist novel it has much richer layers that need to be peeled away for the reader to enjoy it. Some may find it too slow, and at times I can see how. For me it could have had a stronger ending, but it did have one which left you thinking – what was going to happen to those that were left now that Endsleigh was out of their lives, no matter how it touched them.

This is the first book I have read by this author and I am going to look out for some others as I was rather captured by this story. It had a combination of many things which I enjoy in a novel – the big house, history, the dual time frame and the use of letters to also tell the story of some of the characters. It was a book to curl up with and escape into. A very clever romance and as I say in my review not a fluffy tale which is easily forgotten. 

What resonated with me was some of the descriptions of the beautiful furniture, paintings and items that were discovered by Cate and Jack. Even when Cate described visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum..

“The vast lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum was a mixture of classical marble architecture and sleek modern interiors; a winding, undulating Chihuly chandelier hung over the information desk; azure and emerald glass twisting in long serpent tentacles like and aquatic, faceless Medusa”. 

I had recently seen what was described above:

V and A EntranceThe photo does not do it justice. (Although I would hate to have to dust it!)

Many mention as I did about the Mitfordesque slant of the characters in this book and the fact that I had recently read about the Mitford Sisters, that I was building on that by reading this novel. Even though I gave up with the book I read about them, I had obviously read enough for much of it to stick and I felt that it enriched my reading more. I certainly would like to read more about the Debutante’s in the future.

If you do ever get to read this book, then I recommend that you read the Author’s Note at the back, this consolidates the ideas that Tessaro had for the book, but also gives some fascinating potential reading for some rather sad subjects which seem to have been swept under the carpet. To mention it in detail would spoil the book for those who have not read it.