1923, England. World War I is over and the country is partying. London is fizzing with new music, new fashions and new ideas – but these are forbidden for Ladies Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington, daughters of a cash-strapped earl living in the decaying and isolated Beech Grove Manor.
What will happen to them? Ladies don’t work for a living; they get married. Violet longs to make a brilliant marriage, but there’s no money for a Season. Daisy has ambitions to be a film director, but her strict, class-conscious aunt would never agree to anything so demeaning. Poppy and Rose, too, have their own hopes and dreams, and they all need money. The girls seem doomed to become impoverished old maids.
Then a chance letter discovered whilst exploring the attic changes everything. Who is the mysterious Elaine and why does nobody ever speak of her? The family secret, if exposed, could have devastating consequences for the sisters’ hopes and dreams.
Debutantes has some nice period touches, which fans of Nancy Mitford will recognize, like the ‘Murder in the Dark’ party game. I also enjoyed Daisy’s expertise with the camera, creating a darkroom in the old dairy pantry and messing about with chemicals — a reminder that early filmmaking was a hazardous business which required considerable skill if the whole reel were not to go up in flames.
A niggle: the social mores don’t always ring true. An earl’s daughter would never call a duchess ‘Your Grace’; that is for servants. And it would be more in keeping with the period if the earl were referred to as ‘the earl’ throughout, rather than ‘Michael Derrington’. Small points, yes, but they dented my suspension of disbelief.
However, the story zips along most enjoyably. For girls of 12+.
Debutantes is a fantastic book filled with romance and mystery. It has an intriguing, fast-moving plot and fun protagonist. Daisy and her fascination with film production gives a great insight into the 1920s film industry which I found particularly interesting.
The mystery that runs throughout the book is clever, though a touch easy to see through, although the twist comes completely out of the blue. It makes for an interesting, though somewhat unsatisfactory ending. I did not want Violet and Justin to get together after the way she treated him; it takes away from the book’s moral integrity as exemplified by Daisy, the lead character.
I found Debutantes a very enjoyable read and think any keen reader of 12+ would, too.
Rachel Beggs, age 12