To a portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, this historical novel adds two grand fictional passions: one beginning in Switzerland in 1900, the other in the Bahamas in 1941, both involving a ginger-haired Brit named Thorpe.
The first scene of Williams' (The Summer Wives, 2018, etc.) latest novel introduces the resourceful and wonderfully articulate Lulu Randolph Thorpe, "a pedigree twenty-five-year-old feline, blessed with sleek, dark pelt and composure in spades." A columnist for an American women's magazine stationed in the Bahamas in the early 1940s, Lulu reports on the doings of the former Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson—scrupulously avoiding all mention of the thicket of political corruption and racial tension that surrounds them. But to us, Lulu tells all, going back to how she dispensed with her first husband, the problematic Mr. Randolph, and continuing through her current mission—to spring her second husband, British undercover agent Benedict Thorpe, from a German prison camp. A second narrative set 40 years earlier focuses on Elfriede von Kleist, a new mother from rural Westphalia with postpartum depression so severe she has attempted suicide, causing her husband, the Baron, to dispatch her to a clinic in Switzerland. There she meets a young Londoner named Wilfred Thorpe, interrupting his grand tour of the continent to recover from pneumonia—but never to recover from meeting Elfriede. The portrait of wartime Bermuda and the awful Windsors, observed and reported by Lulu, is original and fascinating. Lulu herself is an excellent creation, tough, smart, sexy, and ruthless. While the secondary Elfriede plot adds interesting complications to the historical puzzle, it doesn't have quite as much verve.
A fresh take on the WWII love story, with a narrator who practically demands Myrna Loy come back to life to play her in the movie.