The Last Debutantes: A Novel
When we first meet Valerie de Vere Cole, she is living the “poor little rich girl” lifestyle. The real-life daughter of disgraced society prankster Horace de Vere Cole has been rescued by her kind Aunt Anne, the wife of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The society doyenne has agreed to sponsor Valerie’s social debut in the fateful summer of 1939. Blalock takes this historical fact and, in the absence of any surviving letters or memoirs from Valerie herself, expands it into biographical fiction.
Valerie struggles with both imposter syndrome and her worries about the impending war, which her wealthy peers don’t seem to take seriously enough. The narrator’s tunnel vision on her own resentment is frustrating at first and causes her to make some tediously foolish choices, but she grows to be a sympathetic and realistic observer of glittering upper-crust English society struggling mightily to ignore its own obsolescence. Ultimately, Valerie’s social triumphs pale in comparison to her growing realization that wealth is no guarantee of happiness, but compassion is the best guarantee of friendship.
Although Valerie was a real person, little is known of her life, so Blalock is free to invent her social adventures, skillfully weaving historical figures like the Astors, the Churchills, and the American Kennedys into her experiences. Readers who enjoy details about food, fashion, and society etiquette alongside gossip about public figures’ shady secrets will enjoy the fast-paced whirl of Valerie’s Season. The emotional stakes are pretty low, however, and Valerie’s drawn-out choice between two admirers will not cause any anxiety for the reader. As in her previous slice-of-society-life novel about Princess Margaret, The Other Windsor Girl, Blalock tries and mostly succeeds to offer a glimpse behind the glamour from the point of view of sensible outsiders who enjoy but don’t endorse upper class privileges.