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Monday, May 26, 2014

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

If you liked either The Secret History or The Bellweather Revivals, you might like this novel.

I wasn't particularly taken with any of them, but so many people love The Secret History that a comparison of Bittersweet to The Secret History and The Bellweather Revivals might be in order:

  • lower class individual inserted into a privileged society
  • this individual  comes from a loveless home life
  • is isolated in some way; little or no mention of previous friends 
  • is covetous and overly desirous of being accepted
  • is full of self-justification; rationalizes to absolve him/herself from guilt
  • recognizes moral expediency and condemns it in the rich and powerful crowd he or she wants to enter, but rarely acknowledges it in personal terms
the rich
  • "Let me tell you about the very rich.  They are different from you and me," so said F. Scott Fitzgerald.  We aren't talking about rich in the terms of a million or two, but the rich with multi-millions who can buy anything they want.
  • The rich and privileged are treated pretty much the same in all three books; entitled and above moral or ethical considerations.
  • abuse of power by way of money or personality
  • long and winding books
  • Gothic atmosphere and feeling of impending doom from the first page
  • you know (generally) what will happen, but want the details
  • none of the characters are especially likable and some are simply vicious
Plot of Bittersweet:

Plump Mabel is on scholarship to an exclusive university.  Her roommate Genevra Winslow, who pretty much ignores Mabel, is beautiful and privileged.  An incident allows the two to form a bond--at least the semblance of one--and Mabel is invited to spend the summer with Ev at Winloch, the family's exclusive compound in Vermont.

Of course, Winloch seems like paradise (and guess what?  Mabel is reading or trying to read Milton's Paradise Lost).  From the arrival of  the two girls to Ev's personal cottage Bittersweet, there is an obvious, but enigmatic mystery to the condition of their presence.  
Ev says there will be an inspection which might decide whether they will be able to stay.  And, oh, Mabel does want to stay.  

The extended Winslow family has some interesting characters, and the author does an excellent job in creating them, even if most of them are unlikable.  The pacing felt slow and the unraveling of several of the mysteries felt unnecessarily sluggish.   Several scenes could have been cut to add to the suspense (especially the meeting of Galway and Mabel) and move the novel at a better pace.

The author has well-drawn characters and great descriptive passages of the various areas of the Winloch compound.  I wish I could have liked it better.

ARC from Crown Publishers

Mystery/Suspense?  2014.  400 pages.


  1. I completely agree with you on this one!

  2. :) I'm not completely alone on this one then!

  3. I've been hearing a lot about this book lately--although more so people just talking about reading it, rather than actually having read it. It sounds interesting on some levels, but I'm not sure . . . Well developed characters is always a plus, but the slow pacing makes me hesitate. I'm not feeling very patient right now. :-)

  4. Wendy - You may love it! It is one of those books that attract a very diverse set of opinions.