• Hardcover: 336 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (June 28, 2016)
The bestselling author of A Hundred Summers brings the roaring twenties brilliantly to life in an enchanting and compulsively readable tale of intrigue, romance, and scandal in New York society.
As the hedonism of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue and Southampton, Long Island, has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young paramour, Captain Octavian Rofrano, an aviator and a hero of the Great War.
Though the battle-scarred Octavian is devoted to his dazzling socialite of a certain age and wants to marry her, Theresa resists. The old world is crumbling, but divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing remains a high-stakes affair. And there is no need: she shares a gentle understanding with Sylvo, the well-bred philanderer to whom she’s already married.
That is, until Theresa’s impecunious bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with Miss Sophie Fortescue, the naïve young daughter of a wealthy inventor. Theresa enlists Octavian to check into the background of the reclusive Fortescue family. When Octavian meets Sophie, he falls under the spell of the charming ingénue, even as he uncovers a devastating family secret.
As a fateful triangle forms, loyalties divide and old crimes are dragged into daylight, drawing Octavian into transgression . . . and Theresa into the jaws of a bittersweet choice.
Full of the glamour, wit, and delicious twists that are the hallmarks of Beatriz Williams’s fiction, A Certain Age is a beguiling reinterpretation of Richard Strauss’s comic opera Der Rosenkavalier set against the sweeping decadence of Gatsby’s New York.
Review: If Downton Abbey took place in the US, this book could have been the inspiration. I love the 20s. In fact I gobble up any fiction set from WWI through WWII.
There wasn't a thing that I didn't love about the book. The cover is absolutely perfect. The intro to the book that was a page from the gossip section of the paper was even more perfect. The best thing about the book were the characters. They were all so very different and so special.
Octavio is the twentysomething lover of Theresa Marshall, a wealthy married woman. He's the epitome of all that is great. He's so easy to love. He cares deeply for Theresa and wants to run off with her, and then he falls for Sophie, who incidentally is engaged to Theresa's brother.
Toss in a murder in between the love triangle and you have a perfect book.
Beatriz Williams writes books you can absolutely get lost in. I don't recommend reading this book when you don't have time to spend because it is so difficult to put down.
Rating: 5 flowers
A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.
Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
One on One with the Effervescent Ms. Beatriz Williams, Author
1. Your novels are set in various time periods across the twentieth century, for the teens to the 1960s. Why did you choose 1920s New York as the setting for A Certain Age?
I can’t remember exactly when or why I had the idea to adapt Richard Strauss’s wonderful opera Der Rosenkavalier into a novel—I think I’ve always been fascinated by the character of the Marschallin, so exquisitely drawn and so timeless—but I knew I had to set my book in 1920s New York. This story all about the negotiation between old and new, sometimes delicate and sometimes fierce, on so many levels: youth versus middle age, new money versus old money, present versus past, and that’s exactly where we—as a civilization—found ourselves in 1920, in the wake of the First World War and the profound changes in science and art and technology and human society that swept in with it. And of course, New York in the Jazz Age is so glamorous and gritty and multifaceted, in the same way as Vienna in the 18th century, which was the opera’s original setting.
2. Why do you like to write about the past? What about these time periods draw you?
I’m simply passionate about history. I’m passionate, in particular, about the vast transformation that took place, in ebbs and surges, across the landscape of Western culture during the extraordinary twentieth century, as a result of both human events—war, economic depression—and human ingenuity. With every book, I want to ask how we got here, how we sailed this ship into these waters, what have we gained and what have we lost. And most importantly, what has remained unchanged in all this, and that’s human nature. Our lives and attitudes have undergone massive revision, but underneath we still need what we need, we want what we want. Your grandparents knew the same sorrows and joys, petty and great.
3. What kind of research do you do for your novels?
I read books, first of all, and not just history books. A novel written during that period will give you a wonderful idea of just how people lived and thought. And I’m lucky to be writing about a period for which there’s such an extensive visual record, in the form of photographs and films, which add so much texture in terms of dialogue and voice and accent and personal habits. Finally, when I’m off writing the book, I turn to Google for all those little details and fact-checks. It’s amazing what you find when you look up, say, “first class dinner menu rms majestic 1922 images”!
4. Who were your models for Theresa, Octavian, and Sophie?
I started, of course, with the roles in Der Rosenkavalier, and I kept their original names. (Theresa, of course, becomes Mrs. Marshall instead of the Marschallin.) But naturally, everyone took on a character of his or her own. For example, in the opera, Sophie is a complete ingénue, which played well a hundred years ago, but most modern audiences find ingénues insipid! So I tried to keep her innocence while giving her more depth and strength and independence. Octavian, meanwhile, is a nice aristocratic lad in Strauss’s rendition, while my Octavian has just returned from the First World War and has a whole host of sorrows tormenting him. I think he’s the most changed from the original. And as for Theresa…well, she’s by far the most interesting character in the opera, and I hope I’ve done her justice here.
5. Might we ever hear from Theresa again?
Oh, I think her story isn’t yet finished! She’s certainly going to turn up again; she’s the kind of character who transforms every room she enters, and she’s so much fun to write.
6. At the beginning of each chapter in A Certain Age, you have snippets of “advice” from Helen Rowland. Can you talk about who she is and why you chose to include her in the book?
I came across Helen Rowland while looking for clever quotes for another novel, and she offered so many, I knew she needed a whole book to herself! Helen would have been almost a household name in the first two decades of the twentieth century. She wrote a column called Reflections of a Bachelor Girl for the old New York World, and her pieces became so popular, they appeared in book form. She’s just so witty and perceptive, and so many of her observations—not all of them exactly politically correct!—remain trenchant today. I thought she would represent this book perfectly, not just because the novel deals in the timeless intricacies of love and marriage, but because I think she and Theresa share so much in common.