Book Review: A Vintage Affair (Isabel Wolff)

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This is a resurrected review in anticipation of Wolff’s February release of Shadows Over Paradise .

Isabel Wolff’s A Vintage Affair (2011) centers around Phoebe Swift and how internalized pressures concerning her best friend’s (Emma Kitts) untimely death influence her life. In addition, Phoebe’s parents are recently divorced; and their strained relationship also contributes to her quandary as she juggles being loyal to her mother with growing to love little Louis, her father’s love-child.

Cover_Vintage_AffairPrepared by a successful career as an auctioneer at Sotheby’s in London, Phoebe branches out and opens Village Vintage, an upscale vintage clothing boutique, in Blackheath. Wolff’s use of the UK (mecca of international fashion designers) and Sotheby’s (a vehicle to introduce vintage clothing) as elements in the setting of this novel contributes greatly to it ability to instantly engage the reader. The vivid descriptions of not only the appointments within Village Vintage, but also its diverse clientele, prime the imagination — transporting the reader into an appropriate setting to watch the storyline unfold.

Emma’s death and the surrounding circumstances are clearly one of the sub-plots of this novel. The obvious link to the main plot is Emma’s and Phoebe’s BFF relationship. “The hat” Phoebe displays in Village Vintage, however, is a subtle link to the main plot. Another pivotal character is Thérèse Bell, whom Phoebe addresses as Mrs. Bell. She enters the storyline as a client with a well-kept wardrobe and one item with which she refuses to part — yet another sub-plot.

Wolff skillfully weaves a mother obsessed with rejuvenation, the perfect assistant, a choice of three potential suitors, a high-schooler who can’t afford a coveted gown, a superstitious dressmaker, an inept medium — and other relevant characters — throughout this charming tale. The element of suspense is subtly incorporated throughout the storyline. Wolff continually broaches the subject of Emma’s death in a manner that hints at suicide — a conclusion so obvious that I couldn’t readily accept it. Instead, I immersed myself into the plot and patiently waited for the author’s revelation.

Though the French words and phrases are a necessary part of the dialogue in keeping with the vintage fashion theme, they also caused me to sometimes forget that the setting was actually in the UK. The author’s UK references, however, nudged me back into the appropriate setting.

Phoebe was a fan of the Modigliani, Rubens style of body-typing. The fashionista reader will take pleasure in the designers mentioned:

Dior Burberry
Mary Quant Ferragamo
Betsey Johnson Pierre Cardin
Hermes Kelly Givenchy
Ted Lapidus Nina Ricci
Vivienne Westwood Guy Laroche
James Wainwright Halston
YSL Jean Paul Gaultier

I love all things vintage and knew, just from reading the description, that I would love this novel. Reading it brought on the same waves of nostalgia I get when I enter certain vintage, consignment, and/or resale shops — depending on the stock at the time. As I read about some of the items Phoebe purchased from clients, one passage reminded me of my mother at day’s end in her beautiful bed jackets. I enjoyed reading the stories behind the items that were brought in for Phoebe to purchase. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Advance Uncorrected Proof of A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff.