Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Velvet by Mary Hooper (2011), narrated by Ruth Sillers

It is 1900 and Velvet is struggling with her difficult job in a laundry. It's all she has; her parents are both dead and she is still trying to recover from the guilt surrounding her part in her father's death. When she makes a major mistake at the laundry which will cost her job, she finds an even better opportunity: working with a spiritual medium and living in her comfortable, opulent house. Even better, Madame Savoya has a young handsome assistant named George who immediately captures Velvet's interest, even as she brushes off her old friend and admirer, Charlie.

Certain aspects of the novel were fascinating - the popularity of mediums and seances, baby farms where poor women would foster out their babies until they were stable enough to reclaim them, and even the experience of a poor girl working in a laundry to try and make ends meet. But the potential of the story just wasn't fully realized. A later development which I thought would be quite important to plot resolution was completely dropped. And the final scenes brought out aspects of Charlie's personality that were quite distasteful. Most unfortunately of all, Velvet is unbelievably stupid. For someone who was orphaned and had to live by her wits in the lower classes, she was extremely naive and gullible regarding matters related to both her job and her love life.  Once she began to figure out some of the things going on around her, I thought that surely she would be enlightened to related matters, but no. It all came extremely slowly. I wanted to slap her.

The production value of the audiobook wasn't great either. The narrator's voice is a bit breathy and simpering, which I was willing to put up with (I listened to a sample before downloading). But there are no breaks between chapters, the final sentence of one chapter barely over before the next chapter starts. Even more sloppy were the two times where the audio track suddenly sounded like it was skipping and a couple of seconds of what I think was another book came through. It wasn't enough for me to stop listening, but I did get the impression that the whole thing was thrown together hastily.

As promising as the idea of this novel was, it turned out to be quite disappointing. It didn't take up any of my reading time since I was just listening to the audio while walking or riding the bus, and had I been actually reading it I'm not sure I would have finished. The bare bones of the story was a great idea, but the plot and character development was poor. Unless you're starved for young adult literature set in that period and can't find anything else, you should probably skip it.

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