Gwendolen, an exceptionally beautiful, young upper-class Englishwoman, is gambling boldly at a German resort (winning big, then losing just as soundly) when she learns from her twice-widowed mother that their fortune has been lost. The eldest in a family of sisters, Gwendolen is now responsible for all of them, and, though a fine archer and rider, she has little more than her good looks to offer. When an extraordinarily wealthy aristocrat proposes marriage, she accepts, despite her discovery of an alarming secret about his past.
This novel is Gwendolen's passionate later-life letter to the man she did not marry, and reveals what happened across the brutal and transformative years of her early twenties. That she is also the heroine of George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda (and is writing to Deronda) will intrigue and delight legions of Eliot fans, but debut novelist Diana Souhami has brilliantly and movingly breathed fresh life into a classic in ways that will appeal to readers entirely unfamiliar with Eliot's fictions.
Review by Mirella Patzer
Gwendolen by Diana Souhami is based upon the classic novel, Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. The novel is written in an epostilatory style as the main character, Gwendolen, is writing a letter to the man she has been obsessively in love with for years. In her story, she reveals the horrors of her unhappy and abusive marriage. I have never read the classic, so I have no pre-conceived expectations about the story.
The first half of the novel started off well, introducing Gwendolen who is gambling and meets Daniel Deronda for the first time. Their first encounter introduces Gwendolen's unrequited love that will endure an entire lifetime. Her love is never fulfilled, however, when she learns her family has become impoverished and she must marry well in order to take care of her widowed mother and younger sisters. She marries a wealthy and titled nobleman who soon becomes overly controlling and very abusive.
I found the first half of the book gripping and definitely a page turner. The pace in the second half of the story slows down a bit and changes course from action to deep introspection and self-appraisal on Gwendolen's part. She reflects on her life, her love, her husband, her fate. The character of Daniel Deronda was never fully developed, but I found him interesting and I would love to have learned more about him. This was a very interest, albeit unusual novel. It has intrigued me enough to read one of George Eliot's novels.