I have to start by saying The Vespertine is an incredibly beautifully-written novel. The words flow nicely (sentence structure is important, dammit), and the imagery Mitchell creates here is just gorgeous. Honestly, it's rare that I'm able to so vividly picture scenes from a novel, and not only are The Vespertine's lovely, but the whole thing has a distinctly - I guess the term "Gothic" would be most appropriate - atmosphere that makes that imagery, and the story as a whole, even more intriguing and unique.
While lots of authors play at setting novels in a similar time period, Mitchell is one of the few I've read who really nails the narrative style and voice enough to make me believe that this book not only could possibly have been written in the time period it's set, but that the main character is one who genuinely could have lived in it. Other reviews have mentioned that books set in this era tend to feature heroines with a 21st-Century mindset, and I'm inclined to agree - not that there's anything particularly wrong with that. 19th-Century heroines with modern sensibilities fulfill the desire I'm sure most of us have to give the middle finger to the society and conventions that repressed them in that era. But there's something to be said for a novel featuring a more period-authentic heroine being...well, put through the runner.
Vespertine's first chapter is one of the most captivating I've read in a while. It begins with the heroine, Amelia, trapped in the attic of her brother's home, following a catastrophic "ruination". She's damn near insane with grief over some vaguely-described pain she's caused people she cares about. She contemplates suicide but can't bring herself to follow through, and somewhat madly rambles about her supernatural ability to bring on visions during the twilight hours ("vespers" = evening prayers, "vespertine" = "something of, relating to, or occurring in the evening").
After a few pages, her brother's wife finally releases her from her imprisonment, and Amelia begins facing her prospects as a "ruined" woman. From there, the book rewinds a few months and chronicles Amelia's first season in the city (Baltimore) with her cousins, as upper-Middle-Class young women whose sole goal at this stage in their lives is finding a respectable husband.
I have to say very quickly, I loved that Vespertine was catty bitch-free. In most books of...well, any time period really, if you have a main female character, she almost always has a rival who hates her because she's prettier or has the attention of the love interest or IDK has a vagina or something. Not so here...
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