Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bittersweet Review

Bittersweet follows Mabel Dagmar, a "plain" girl whose roommate in college is the gorgeous Genevra Winslow from a wealthy, blue-blooded family. Mabel unexpectedly becomes friends with Ev and is invited to spend the summer at the Winslow family compound, Winloch, in Vermont. For more than a century the Winslows have spent summers in Winloch, generations of gorgeous, blonde people with interesting names (Galway, Indo, Birch, etc). Mabel is desperate for the chance to escape her own family and dark secrets and moves into Ev's cottage, named Bittersweet, for the summer.

The beginning of the summer goes well. Mabel and Ev are essentially alone in the compound before the whole family shows up. They clean Bittersweet from top to bottom for an "inspection" by her parents, which Ev insisted was necessary to Mabel staying for the summer. Mabel also has an embarrassing encounter early on that gets her noticed by Galway, Ev's older brother. Ev disappears frequently, off with a couple different men, including the family handyman, John. Left to her own devices, Mabel befriends Ev's younger sister Lu and her eccentric aunt, Indo, who sets much of Mabel's summer into motion by asking her to research some of the family history. There's a rare painting, a Van Gogh, that Indo claims belongs to her. However, Birch (Ev's father and Indo's brother) has the painting hung in his home. Indo essentially promises to leave her cottage to Mabel in exchange for learning some of the mysterious secrets about the family, a task that Mabel finds frustrating.

Ev and John's relationship grows closer, although remains a secret from most of the family and Mabel is shocked when Ev reveals that she is pregnant and planning to run away with John. Around the same time, Mabel is drawn to Ev's older brother, Galway, who she launches into a passionate relationship with. She can't help but notice some of the strange elements at Winloch: Ev's mother's coldness, Indo's outcry against her brother's controlling ways, the bolts that are inside Ev and Indo's cottages, etc. Everything comes to a head one night in July when something horrible happens to one of the characters, sending Ev and Mabel into a total tailspin for the remainder of the summer and setting up their futures once and for all.

All this time Mabel was desperate to be a part of this family, wishing to hide from her own past and longing for what she perceives as the comfort of beauty and wealth. However, she slowly starts to expose the dark secrets that haunt the Winslow family and her opinion of them will change forever. Question is, is it too late for her to escape? Despite being set during the summer on a lakeside compound, this definitely is a gothic novel. The characters aren't always likable and the pacing is uneven (sometimes way too slow and then a lot happens at once), but in general, it's a good novel for long, hot summer days. I definitely recommend it!

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