Book Review for “The Looking Glass” by Carla Sarett.
Summary: “Claire Charles, a member of 1930s New York high society, has been trained in painting in preparation for marriage, but shocks everyone by pursuing art as a career and her own inclinations. In Paris, fifteen years later, she collides with Leah, a mysterious artist who has been secretly painting for her husband. When Kay Charles, Claire’s 16-year year old niece, reluctantly models for a portrait, the lives of the three women become intertwined. Claire’s voice alternates with James, a handsome art dealer, and Kay, who claims a special legacy. From Manhattan to Paris, galleries to artist colonies, from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, THE LOOKING GLASS is a story about women, art, and memory.“
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, USA – New York (mostly); Other Categories: Novella, LGBTQIA+, Artists.
I do get quite a few requests from authors and publishers to read books, but unfortunately, it is the rare occasion that both my reading list, and the genre of the book make it possible for me to accept the offers. This is one of those occasions, mostly because (whew!) this book is Literary, Women’s fiction and it is a novella, which means I can read it quickly and review it in time for Novellas in November. I have to admit that so far, I’m enjoying these, and if I was a faster reader, I might have tried to read one a day, like my friend Simon @ Stuck in a Book. Alas, my dyslexia strikes again, and even though this is a mere 65 pages (or so), it took me more than a day to read it. So, with no further ado…
Well, talk about your unreliable narrator, this book has a whole bunch of them. Okay, three to be precise, but not a one of them is telling the truth about the events they experienced, that’s for absolute sure! Now, this is something that we can accept – first person narratives are written to be slightly biased. However, to succeed in telling this story with these personal points of view, while allowing us to read between the lines, isn’t an easy feat, so kudos to Sarett for this. Mind you, this also makes us very wary of each of these vignettes, and doesn’t always endear the characters to the readers. Of the three, I think that (strangely enough), I felt more sympathy for James than I did for either Clare or Kay, since he seems to be the most honest of the three. Sadly, though, I think Sarett made him just a touch too good to be true (sorry, I can’t say more… because, you know, spoilers).
Regarding the format of this story, I did like the way Sarett built it with the different characters each telling a bit of their stories from different years. I also liked that Sarett put them in chronological order, so that we see these characters move across these 50 years as if they moved through them together. Mind you, you will find that some of these pieces did take some pretty hefty leaps in time. While that was intriguing, there were times when something is talked about in one section that refers to events that happened sometime after the previous one, but before the latest one. This did lend a bit of mystery to the story, but it also felt like Sarett was partially holding out on her readers. For example, in one section one Sarett refers to a serious illness of one of the characters, from which they’ve now recovered. We never find out what that illness was, just that the character almost died, and surviving it took a large physical toll on that character.
That’s not really a plot hole, but I have to admit that not knowing this bothered me a bit. In addition, there was one element of the story that totally confused me. I’m not sure how I can explain it without giving anything away, but… let’s just say that at one point you see two characters living in – what seems like – perfect harmony together, and then one of them just ups and leaves. This made me say “huh?” and I felt like I missed something. I’m willing to believe that this was partially the fault of the narrator who talked about this episode, and I hoped that some explanation would become evident later on in the novella. Unfortunately, either I didn’t get it, or it just wasn’t there.
I should say that I did enjoy Sarett’s writing in general, and this is certainly a very good first outing into the novella format. Once again, we’re looking at fiction from a writer who started out in poetry, so I was partially expecting a bit more of a lyrical style here than I got. However, there was a very pleasant, gentle flow to each of these vignettes, even if each of the voices weren’t as unique as they could have been. For all of this, I can recommend this novella, and I think this book deserves three and a half stars out of five. For a debut into fiction, that’s not bad at all, and I’d very much like to read more fiction from Sarett in the future.
Propertius Press released “The Looking Glass” by Carla Sarett on October 8, 2021. This book is available from the publisher’s website, or (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), and iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks). I would like to thank the publishers for sending me a copy of this novella for review.