The reviews I write for Booklist are exercises in concise writing; I have a limit of 175-200 words.
Edith Wharton lived in the glittering world of the moneyed elite she wrote about, although she never experienced her characters’ lustful motivations herself until she met American journalist Morton Fullerton. Fields bases her perceptive novel on Wharton’s own diaries and letters. By 1907, Edith is tired of husband Teddy’s gaucheness and depressive episodes and succumbs to the charms of Fullerton, whom she encounters at a French dinner party. It’s hard not to pity her—he is obviously a cad—but she displays a touching vulnerability, opening herself to passion for the first time at 45, and her anguish at Fullerton’s inconstancy is deeply felt. Readers also observe them from the viewpoint of Anna Bahlmann, the literary secretary and longtime friend Edith sometimes carelessly takes for granted. Gentle Anna doesn’t approve of the affair, which drives her and Edith apart for a time. While the novel concentrates more on the emotional than the intellectual sphere, it sheds welcome light on the little-known private life of a famous woman and her closest relationships in early-twentieth-century Europe and America.
For two more (slightly longer) takes on the novel, see the Historical Novels Review and Unabridged Chick.
The Age of Desire is published in August 2012 by Pamela Dorman/Viking in hardcover (352pp, $27.95). In the UK, the publisher is Ebury Press. My review first published in Booklist's July 2012 issue; reprinted with permission.