A Vintage Affair, written by Isabel Wolff, follows the story of protagonist Phoebe Swift as she embarks on opening her very own vintage clothes shop, Village Vintage.
We soon learn Phoebe is not a novice when it comes to vintage clothing having worked for an auction house valuing clothing for a number of years. But we also learn very quickly that the opening of this shop has not been borne solely out of a love of old clothes but because her best friend Emma has recently died - a death she blames herself for.
What follows is a tale of Phoebe's burgeoning success as a vintage fashion retailer, her entanglements with two very different men and most notably her friendship with an elderly and terminally ill Frenchwoman, whom she meets when called upon to value some of her old, but rather lovely, clothing.
It is this character, Mrs Bell, who helps her come to terms with her past and enables her to move forward after the death of her friend.
I came across this book purely by chance when searching for an author I very much enjoy reading, Eva Rice, on Amazon. Isabel Wolff's offerings were recommended by the online retailer as 'something similar' to Eva Rice which I may also enjoy.
I had never come across Isabel Wolff's work before but committing the cardinal sin of being enticed by the book's rather attractive cover, I decided to give it a go.
A Vintage Affair turned out to be a light-weight yet enjoyable read which keeps the reader wanting to know more, especially about 'that blue coat'.
There are also some rather compelling characters that Phoebe meets through the shop including a struggling actress and shop assistant Annie and the purchasers of the 'cupcake dresses'. Mrs Bell proves a riveting character whose tale brought a tear to my eye and the sub plot of Phoebe's parents marriage break-up, her mother's desire for a facelift and her father's newborn son, whilst in his sixties, add colour to the plot.
The one character who actually left me wanting was Phoebe herself. Though it is through her voice that the tale is told, she remains a rather two dimensional character. We know the reason she is where she is in her life and we know where she wants to be - in a happier place - but her actual personality is rather an enigma, as Isabel Wolff uses her purely as a vehicle to drive on the story without embellishing on the deeper reasons why things are happening in Phoebe's life and who she actually is.
This is not to say that this book is not an enjoyable read but while it will keep you gripped as you turn the pages, once you put it down, it will have very little lasting impact on you.
Read it for a nice bit of Sunday afternoon escapism, especially if you are a fashion lover as one thing this book is rich in is detailed descriptions of vintage clothing. It is just a shame the same attention to detail is not given to the main protagonist.
After several years of appraising and selling vintage clothing at an auction house, Phoebe Swift is opening her very own vintage clothing store, Village Vintage. This is the moment she's been dreaming of for years, and whilst it should be a happy time in her life, it is overshadowed by something that happened in the past...
Phoebe's lifelong friend Emma has recently died, and Phoebe feels a sense of guilt about the whole situation. Her and Emma had drifted apart after Phoebe began dating Guy, the man Emma had her eye on. After Emma's death, she left Guy and has refused to speak to him since, blaming him for the fact she was not there when her friend needed her.
When Phoebe meets an elderly Frenchwoman, Mrs Bell, who wants to sell some of her clothes to Village Vintage, she notices a beautiful blue child's coat in Mrs Bell's wardrobe. When Mrs Bell finds Phoebe looking at it, she becomes upset and tells her the coat is not for sale. As the two women talk, Mrs Bell calms down and begins to reveal the story of the blue coat. In a tale that eerily echoes Phoebe's own story, the two women find that they have more in common than a love of clothes. Can Mrs Bell's tale help Emma finally get over her guilt?
I had read Isabel Wolff's first two novels only last year, and enjoyed them, but this was the first of her more recent works I had read. I bought it because I had read a few positive reviews and also because the theme of vintage clothing appealed to me.
The character of Phoebe is a likeable one, although saying that I don't think she is particularly memorable. I think Mrs Bell was a much more interesting, and I was eager to read the pages where she featured, as I wanted to hear her story and what had happened so many years ago.
The theme of vintage clothing is one I enjoyed and I loved reading about all of the beautiful clothes in Phoebe's shop. These are mentioned quite a lot though, and sometimes the descriptions are quite detailed, so maybe if fashion's not something you're interested in, then perhaps you may find it boring.
There is a little sub-plot involving four 50's style prom dresses which Phoebe refers to as 'Cupcake dresses'. As the book goes on we meet the four women who purchase the dresses, each of them with their own little story which again is something I enjoyed reading and adds a bit of extra interest to the story.
No chick-lit offering would be complete without a love interest, and Phoebe, lucky thing, gets two. These come in the shape of Dan, a colour-blind journalist, and Miles a suave and sophisticated older man with a spoilt brat of a teenage daughter. To be honest though, I couldn't really see the appeal in either of them! Dan bored me with his constant references to black and white films, and Miles might have been OK if it wasn't for his pandering to the every whim of his bratty daughter.
Although the whole story was tinged with sadness in the case of both women, I didn't feel like this was a sad book really. Yes, in fairness it did have it's sad moments, but it still most definitely is chick-lit, and I found it a fairly light, easy to read novel. I'm normally quite a slow reader, but I got through this book relatively quickly as the story was fast paced and there was always something happening. I must admit though I did think there was a bit of a lull in the middle where I got a little bit bored. This was the part where Phoebe goes to stay with Miles' cousin - I just thought that it dragged a bit.
There are a few little twists and turns in this book. I wouldn't have said they were particularly huge, and most of them I saw coming, but that didn't really spoil it for me too much.
Overall I really enjoyed this book, and I could see that Isabel Wolff's writing has really got much better over time. If you're looking for a light, girly novel, then I would recommend giving this one a read.
A Vintage Affair is the story of Phoebe Swift, who we join just as she is achieving a lifelong ambition - opening a shop selling the items that have been her lifelong passion - vintage clothing. Through the clothing that she sells, particularly the dresses - she inadvertently has an impact on other people's stories and lives and they also lead her into the arms of two potential romantic interests.
In particular it also leads her to meet Therese, an elderly Frenchwoman who approaches Phoebe in order to sell her pieces from her own designer vintage wardrobe as she no longer has any need for them. The two form an immediate bond, not least due to a beautiful mysterious child's jacket which Therese refuses to sell. Over time they reveal their tragic pasts to each other, both having lost people that they loved dearly and both living with an overwhelming feeling of guilt which has overshadowed their lives since. I do not want to reveal much more about the plot as there are lots of surprises in store.
I have to be honest and say that I was very, very pleasantly surprised by the book. The cover and the tagline - "Do fairytale dresses bring fairytale endings?" made me assume that it would be a pleasant but somewhat lightweight chicklit read. However, it has a really engaging plot and packs a real emotional punch, sometimes when you least expect it. There are also some genuinely surprising revelations along the way. There are a lot of secret histories to be unfolded and this is done really well, but still manages to keep you guessing.
The way that the stories are interwoven with the people who buy or seek the clothes, is really clever and nowhere near as contrived as it possibly could have been. The only plot thread which grates a little is that of Phoebe's relationship with her parents who are newly estranged from each other as her father now has a family which a much younger woman after an adulterous affair.
The clothes in particular are lushly described. I have no real knowledge of designers or vintage clothing but I really got a sense of the appeal of it, which to me is a testament to how could the book and the writing is. In lesser hands it could forma very frivolous subject matter which could undermine the rest of what the book is trying to achieve. As it is the light and the dark is managed perfectly and the more tragic elements of the book are well considered and judged so it is rather more moving than sentimental. The characterisation is good also. Phoebe in particular is an interesting protagonist, sympathetic but a more flawed character than you would expect - gradually revealing herself over time.
For once in this type of novel the romantic interests are believable, not least as they are inexplicably drawn to Phoebe the way that most of the people throughout the novel are - through the shop.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and found it largely unputdownable and would highly recommend it to any fans of chicklit.
Phoebe Swift is finally realising her dream and is opening up Village Vintage, her very own shop selling vintage clothing and accessories. It's all going well, so why is Phoebe still a bit down? It turns out she's carrying a terrible guilt after her friend, Emma, tragically died.
Opening Village Vintage introduces Phoebe to Mrs. Bell (Therese), an elderly French lady who also feels terribly guilty and has a story to tell... In their own way, they both manage to help each other overcome their guilt.
Is it enough to enable Phoebe to love again?
Books about clothes make me feel nervous because generally I'm not at all in with fashion. I'm not concerned what clothing is currently in so I was worried all of the talk of clothing might put me off the book. I'm happy to report I loved the book and - surprisingly - I loved hearing about all of the vintage clothes Phoebe bought.
A Vintage Affair is a wonderfully written novel. I really didn't want the book to end. Hearing Phoebe's and Mrs. Bell's story was sad but also very enjoyable. Their stories were eerily similar in the reasons why both felt so guilty. Isabel always managers to create such interesting back stories for her characters and both Phoebe's and Therese's were well crafted. Therese's in particular must have taken a lot of research because it was very well explained.
I thought Phoebe was a brilliant character and I could feel her guilt about Emma and felt so sad for her. I also completely understood why she blamed Guy even though the truth does come out in the end regarding that night.
Therese was a very interesting character and I found she and Phoebe got along really well together. Their relationship was so easy going even though they hardly knew each other. We learn of Therese's story really early on - it wasn't dragged out at all. It was such an interesting and sad story, too. I felt so sorry for Therese that even after all of these years she still couldn't forgive herself.
Of the minor characters I really liked Dan. I felt he got along better with Phoebe than Miles did. I was surprised to learn he was colour-blind, it was an interesting addition to his eccentric character. As I said, I don't think Miles and Phoebe really got on all that well and I just couldn't warm to Miles. He completely spoilt his daughter, Roxy, and I found her just as irritating. Roxy came across incredibly selfish and her behaviour was horrible.
I really liked Annie, Phoebe's part-time helper in the shop. I liked her enthusiasm for the vintage clothes Phoebe sold. I found Phoebe's mum hilarious with her constant wanting of facials and facelifts and all kind of treatments! I loved the story of the cupcake dresses and how each of the girls managed to acquire them. Katie was probably my favourite of the 4 - so different to the spoilt Roxy, she earned the right to buy her dress rather than being able to get her daddy to get it for her!
A Vintage Affair is probably one of my favourite books of the year. It was throughly enjoyable and is just as good as the other Isabel Wolff books I've read. Her writing just gets better & better!
I usually get through a couple of books a week quite easily. However I've had a bit of a reading slump over the last week or two. A combination of some family concerns and a rare heatwave have left my concentration span somewhat short. After picking up and discarding no less than 6 books over a number of days, I finally found one I could get into.
A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff begins with Phoebe Swift reliving a childhood memory of her best friend, Emma. Roll on 25 years and on the eve of opening a vintage clothing shop in trendy Blackheath, after turning her back on her successful career at Sotherby's and the man she was engaged to marry, it becomes apparent that tragedy has struck Emma and 32 year old Phoebe is harbouring deep guilt over the death of her life long friend.
Struggling to come to terms with her loss and her guilt, she meets an elderly lady, Mrs Bell, who realising her time is drawing short has decided to sell her collection of vintage designer dresses. While assessing the clothing, Phoebe discovers an unworn child's blue wool coat, dating from the 1940's hanging beside them, but when asked about it, Mrs Bell becomes agitated and states the coat is not for sale. Knowing Mrs Bell never had children of her own, Phoebe is intrigued about the relevance and secrets of the blue coat. As Mrs Bell and Phoebe become friends, the story behind the child's garment is told and the two women discover that despite 50 years seperating them in age, they have a lot in common. Both feel they have betrayed their best friend in the worst way.
The first thing which piqued my interest in this novel is that it is set in Blackheath in South East London. I know London very little, being a true northern girl myself. Most books set in the capital, while stating famous places, hold very little personal familiarity. However, I did have a friend in Blackheath quite a number of years ago, who I visited a couple of times. I remember feeling it was a very sophisticated and glamorous place at the time, and loved the village feel and quaint boutiques I would pass (never going in, I was far too poor). I was immediately able to place myself in the novel and could just imagine Phoebe's little vintage boutique.
The book is undoubtedly 'chick-lit'. The cover screams it with a pretty pink dress adorning it. I was expecting something fluffy and glamerous with lots of descriptions of beautiful designer gowns. I got the gowns in abundance, sometimes in too much detail, but what I wasn't expecting was a deep and slightly harrowingly sad story and a bit of a mystery to be solved too.
I loved the friendship which develops between Phoebe and Mrs Bell, it really is beautiful. Both women's stories of betrayal and guilt are touching and not always as you expect. There were a number of times throughout the book when I thought I knew which way things were headed, or knew how something had came about only to be proved wrong. Mrs Bell's story in particular is shocking and stunning, and a theme I was not at all expecting to find in what seemed a glaringly obvious chick-lit. As she tell's Phoebe the story and her regret, Phoebe is eager to solve the mystery and bring peace to her new friend and I found this element intriguing. It's not a thrilling mystery full of fear and suspense, but I was still captivated by it and eager to find out.
Through Phoebe's customers a number of sub plots are introduced. I really liked the individual little stories that came in here, some would only last a page while others wove in and out of the story. These little stories really brought to life the beauty of vintage ball gowns, each dress having it's own history and inspiring and empowering the modern women who fall in love with them. I really could relate to most of these women and there story. I am also a strong believer in the power of retail therapy, so could understand how such beautiful clothing would make them feel. While running the risk of being so, I never found this superficial.
I don't know if Isabel Wolff had a keen interest in vintage clothing before writing this novel, she certainly comes across as being quite passionate about her subject. It is clear that she researched mirticulously though, and I did find at times she become too absorbed in describing the garments and their designers, distracting the reader from the plot. I found myself skimming over some descriptions and was always eager to return to Mrs Bell's story. It wasn't just the clothing where I found the book wandering into over detail either. At times a seemingly ridiculous amount of time was spent telling somewhat irrelevant events. One such example was when Phoebe takes part in a radio interview promoting her new shop. This covered 4 pages and was the complete script from the fictional interview, which may have been interesting if listening to it on the radio while stuck in traffic, but was tedious to read. It also held no real relevance to the story and a brief mention would have sufficed. Again, I found myself skimming over such sections. The book is 420 pages long and I do feel it could have been cut by around 50 pages.
Another slight criticism I have, and one which I noticed in a previous novel by Isabel Wolff, is her tendency to give background information through random conversations. I found these felt contrived in places, I don't believe that any-one would speak in such a way naturally. The whole purpose was to inform the reader and it did show to me. This conversational background setting doesn't last too long and while finding it irritating, didn't find it lessened my enjoyment of the rest of the book.
Of course no chick-lit novel would be complete with 2 potential love interests to puzzle over, and we are not dissapointed in A Vintage Affair. There's Miles, the dashing, rich, sophisticated 'older' man with a teenage spoilt brat from hell in tow, and the dishevelled, amusing, caring and down to earth Dan. This follows a predictable tried and tested path, but I'm not complaining...it's what we girls want from our chick-lit right? The other chick-lit staple also not emitted from this novel is the dizzy Mother of Phoebe, full of neurosis's and age crisis's. Lot's of chick-lit seem to have the same personality for the main characters Mother (Bridget Jones and Shopoholic are 2 that spring to mind) and are characters I do not relate too at all! My mother is nothing like these upper middle class, vain an neurotic house wives and I do find this portrayal of 50-60 year old women annoying.
A vintage affair is told in the first person from Phoebe, and this prose works well enough, although I think a shared 3rd person between Phoebe and Mrs Bell might have worked better. We only get Mrs. Bell's story as it's told to Phoebe, and as it is such a powerful one think it would have carried a bit more weight had it come from herself.
Criticisms aside this is a very good novel. Isabel Wolff is an accomplished writer, and it shows. Her characters and plots have more depth than the standard chick-lit authors. She weaves various different storylines effortless so that I never found the book difficult to follow. I did find this an easy read, but one with a heartfelt and intriguing original plot which surprised me often throughout. I found it emotional at times, welling up with tears on a couple of occasions. I cared deeply about the main characters, Phoebe and Mrs. Bell, empathising with both of their stories and hoping they found the peace they deserved. I even felt the smaller characters in the sub plots were drawn well enough for me to care about them and their stories. While I didn't exactly race through the book (which to be fair could be down to my general mood of late), I found it easy enough to pick up and read a couple of chapters at a time, and could slip back into the story effortlessly. I found the final 150 pages the best, and actually read them in one sitting in the park while my daughter played and was sorry when it ended.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes chick-lit with an edge, a step beyond fluff and romance. It's perfect holiday reading, or curling up in your comfiest clothes with a cuppa and a choccie biscuit.
This novel was in the 2 for £7 deal at Tesco so I decided to give it a shot after being attracted by the pink dress on the cover and the blurb on the back.
The story begins with Phoebe Swift setting up her own vintage clothes store. The details about the clothes, the designers and fashion eras past were truly spectacular and you could perefectly imagine every single item - especially the beautiful cupcake dresses.
Each character who vists the store adds more depth to the storyline and the writing is done in such a way that you actually care about these minor characters rather than them simply being there to move the story along.
You know from the start that Phoebe has just broken up with someone and that she has lost her best friend. You immeadiately make assumptions - but you will never guess what really happened!! Wolff cleverly brings details of Phoebe's past into the book without them ever seeming inappropriate or that she is trying to force the story out. You really feel Phoebe's pain and anguish.
The main focus of the story however begins when Phoebe visits an elderly french women who wishes to sell Phoebe some of her clothes. After looking through the women's wardrobe Phoebe finds a child's blue coat which the women refuses to depart with. Knowing the women has never had children Phoebe is curious about the coat and throughout the novel we find out about the little blue coat. I don't want to give anything away here but the story is fantastic and Wolff has truly done her research here. I learnt a lot about a period I never knew that much about.
This story turns the novel from being something that would be fun and frivolous into a truly spectacular novel with amazing depth!! I would (and have) thoroughly reccomended this book!!!
Before reading this novel I hadn't read of the author's other work but I definately will be now!!
The novel is available in hardback and paperback (423 pages long) in Tesco's 2 for £7 offer or on Amazon for £3.84.