‘Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel’ by Susan Vreeland

'Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel' by Susan Vreeland {photo via NYTimes}

‘Take it as a fantasy of a happy land where things that please the eye do not have to make sense. Just being beautiful is enough. Art for art’s sake, we say, because beauty blesses humanity with a better life.’

First, let me clarify that this novel is a work of fiction that is based off true events – a new type of novel style that I seem to be attracted to a la ‘Loving Frank’ or ‘The Paris Wife‘. Noting specifically that Clara Driscoll did exist, as did Mr. Lewis Tiffany (the son of Mr. Charles Tiffany – founder of the little blue-boxed Tiffany & Company).

'Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel' by Susan Vreeland

The novel spans through the decades of 1890 -1910, where roles for women were incredibly different than they are today – especially in the work force. Case in point – no female employees who worked at Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company were allowed to be in a union or married; either act would lose them their jobs instantly. Resulting from this distinction, female workplace roles play quite a large part in the novel; and while this is in no ways a ‘feminist’ tale, the author does make her feelings about these conditions known through her adaptation of Clara – although I am not sure if the author did this purposely or subconsciously.

Many other topics are touched upon through the novel – love, friendship, betrayal, acceptance, death  – but the social roles seem to dominate and at times muddle the beautiful writing style of the author.

This book was interesting to read, and in the general sense I enjoyed it, for both the adapted history and the point of view. However, Clara Driscoll’s character seemed to drift rather quickly from chapter to chapter – portraying her as a mature woman, then a lovesick woman, then a feminist, then a doormat, then an ignorant woman, then a frivolous woman – and so on and so on in a disjointed and not altogether pleasant way. And while I fully admit that I  – and all humans – have all these aspects to our character, I just felt that the style of writing forced the traits to the woman instead of allowing Clara to come to the page as a whole being, naturally and beautifully and organically –  like Clara’s lamps.

So what am I saying? Well, I am glad I read this book, however, this is not a tale I will reach for to read a second or a third time – and I am quite glad that I borrowed it from the public library rather than purchasing it outright.

‘See? Success and disaster are only a moment apart.’

Salon Summary

RECOMMENDABILITY: 2 {out of 5} stars  |  ★★☆☆☆
REPETITIVE READABILITY: 1 {out of 5} stars  |  ★☆☆☆☆
RATING: 3 {out of 5} stars  |  ★★★☆☆

2 thoughts on “‘Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel’ by Susan Vreeland

  1. Casee … This comment is so astute – that is exactly it! ‘If a book has subpar writing or a predictable story but the characters pull me in, I’ll still love it.’ I actually thought the author had a lovely writing style and I am not turned off to reading the rest of her novels, I just don’t think I particularly liked how this character was portrayed – she was too much and not enough.

  2. Great review, Carolann! I definitely appreciate your honesty, and I think I can relate to the way you described Clara’s character as drifting through different phases. Unfortunately sometimes I think characters can fail to translate to us, the reader, from where they stand in the author’s imagination. I’ve written fiction, but I’ve never really shared it publicly, and one of my big fears with it is that people won’t see what’s so special about the characters. As a writer I imagine you also have to be somewhat intuitive to your readers and have the ability to critically examine the little holes where you might lose them. But you also don’t want to have too many bases covered – no person in the real world will ever be universally liked, so to expect our characters to be that way too is a little overzealous, right?

    Basically, I think every book, every character, has the reader it jives with and the reader it doesn’t. I’ve definitely hit on a few I don’t jive with, and I usually just chock it up to being a lack of chemistry. It’s definitely the worst thing to me, though, not getting on with a character. If a book has subpar writing or a predictable story but the characters pull me in, I’ll still love it. As soon as a character loses me, I’m pretty much done. 😉

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