I have spent the weekend just gone, lost in a book. The kind of book with such a strong sense of time and place that it was almost a surprise to find myself sitting here at my desk in modern day Ormskirk while my heart is still serving rouge behind the counter of a turn of the century Manhattan department store. And yet here I am, sorry that it is over and rather sad that I cannot remain friends with Amanda and Olive.
Telling two parallel intertwining story’s, Astor Place Vintage switches between the tales of Amanda, a modern day vintage clothing store owner and Olive, a once middle class pampered young lady from 1908, now fallen on cockroach ridden hard times. Both women are atypical of the kind of lightweight chick-lit that this book essentially is presented as, and neither try to entice us the reader with sentiment, being as they are some of the truest female characters to be found in this genre that I have read in a long time…
While the vintage clothing store is a setting much used in many recent books, it really serves, in Astor Place Vintage, only to define Amanda’s bohemian attitude to life, and very little of the story actually takes place in the store, except when she is bored and picks up Olive’s journal to entertain herself. And thus we dip out of one life and into another in alternative chapters, and while this is a device often disturbed by the readers preference for one or other of the characters, in this charming book it does not happen for both Olive and Amanda’s stories are equally as engaging.
Much of which is down to the author, Stephanie Lehman’s meticulous research skills, for this is a book stuffed to the gills with the history of both the women it describes and indeed the streets of Manhattan in which it is set. Not scared to tackle intimate subjects, Lehman describes the bother of menstruation in the times before tampons, the misunderstandings about sex apparently purported even by the medical people supposed to be offering advice and the complete bewilderment experienced by Olive as she runs scared from growing up and becoming a sexual woman in her own right, after her Fathers death.
With imagery probably defined in my mind by both Mr Selfridge and The Paradise, Olive finds work in a department store and sets about making a life for herself unafraid of the ambition many of her lower class friends seems intimidated by, while dear, lovely, foolish and oh so like the rest of us, Amanda, does her best to extradite herself from a damaging relationship with a married man. Both women battling for independance with great spirit, while fighting financial and emotional problems that look set to cripple them.
The book is not without issues. There are strands of magic realism simply not developed enough to be anything other than the kind of whimsy I wanted to skip over and the ending was… not exactly disappointing, but left me absolutely desperate to know more. While this might be mighty fine if there is a sequel on the way (oh pretty please!) I really don’t want to spend the rest of my my life wondering what became of Olive and Amanda…
But despite that I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend a day curled up in bed, worrying about the ladies of Astor Place, and I truly hope that if you do download it to your Kindle (it’s just $1.99 at the moment!), that you enjoy it just as much as I did.