Posts Tagged ‘1900s’


This novel tells the story of three sisters making their way in vaudeville in Canada in the early 1900s. Aurora, Clover and Bella, together with their widowed and fragile mother Flora, go from theatre to theatre, sometimes headlining, sometimes opening the show and experiencing the various ups and downs of vaudeville and life in general.

The book covers the period from shortly before the outbreak of World War I, to shortly before the end of that war. As the family move from across the country, they each experience love and heartbreak and end up growing up in their own individual ways.

It is very clear that the author has extensively researched her subject and there are some real life characters included, although most are fictional but based on real life (for example, one character is based on Buster Keaton and his family). It made for an interesting and informative read, and I do feel that it gave a lot of insight into what is essentially an unstable profession. What I liked about the sisters was their very believable love and support for each other – each had their own talent and personality and they all complemented each other.

While overall I enjoyed this book, I would say I liked it rather than loved it. I would recommend it, but with some hesitation as I feel that if historical fiction is not a genre you would normally enjoy, this is not a book which is going to change your mind.

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In 1909, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, accompanied by fellow psychologist Carl Jung, came to New York to deliver lectures on psychoanalysis to a University.  But he quickly finds himself becoming embroiled in the case of two young society girls in the city who have been viciously assaulted.  Elizabeth Riverford was found dead, having been strangled, in her apartment.  Nora Acton survived, but barely and was unable to recall who had attacked her or what exactly had happened.

Stratham Younger, a protegee of Freud’s, is given the job of psychoanalysing Nora and uncovering what happened to her – and most importantly, who attacked her.  In doing so, he employs some of Freud’s controversial methods – but will they work?

I am in two minds about this book.  I certainly thought the writing was very eloquent and evocative of the time in which it was set.  Woven into the story was some of the history of New York City, and how it came to be the vibrant and exciting city which we know it as today.  I enjoyed these parts, and thought that the descriptions of the city were excellent.  The author has clearly done some very thorough research.

The murder mystery was an interesting story, with plenty of twists and turns; it perhaps did get a little too convoluted towards the end, but there was plenty to keep me guessing, and just when I thought I had it all worked out, something would happen which would start me wondering all over again!  I certainly could not have guessed the ending.

There was another storyline concerning Freud’s lectures and the fact that someone is determined to stop both the lectures themselves, and Freud’s ideas from getting into the mainstream consciousness.  This held my attention slightly less, but was still intriguing.

I did enjoy the book for the main part, but a big problem for me was that I felt that the reader needed to invest somewhat in Freud’s theories, and I found that quite difficult to do.  I was quite aghast at some of the methods which Stratham Younger applied during the therapy which he administered to Nora, and found that it actually left me feeling slightly uncomfortable.

The book is narrated in part by Younger, and partly in the third person.  While all of the characters were very well developed, I found Younger hard to relate to.  My favourite character was a Policeman named Littlemore, who, together with the city coroner, was investigating the murder and attack.  Littlemore was delightful – very believable and likeable.  (He apparently features in Rubenfeld’s next novel, and that alone, would be enough for me to read it.)  The story moves along at a fast pace with plenty of twists and turns, and I would probably recommend it to fans of the genre.

Overall, this is an interesting look at New York City in the early 1900s, and well worth reading for anybody interested in the life or work of Sigmund Freud, although the author acknowledges that he has taken liberties with timelines etc.

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