In search of a fresh start, sad chick-lit heroine immerses herself in old clothes and new relationships.
As obvious as a Vivienne Westwood bustle skirt, this lightweight romance with melancholy overtones introduces British author Wolff, with seven previous novels already published, to a U.S. readership. It’s the story of guilt-ridden ex-Sotheby’s textile specialist Phoebe Swift, now opening a vintage-clothes shop in South London as a means of starting over after the death of her best friend Emma, caused in part by Phoebe’s altered priorities after her engagement to a man Emma wanted for herself. The shop takes off at lightning speed, and bruised Phoebe soon has two new possible suitors in view, color-blind journalist Dan and suave, older solicitor Miles. Among a rash of subplots including her parents’ failed marriage and the mini-narratives of customers visiting the store, Phoebe becomes involved with frail Mrs. Bell, who also let down her best friend, a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France. Despite a cast of one-dimensional secondary characters and an array of weak, fraudulent and self-deluding men, the novel achieves some emotional engagement in its mirrored themes of loss, redemption and forgiveness, which Wolff weaves neatly into her predictably upbeat conclusion.
Innocent, tidy and simple escapism, with frocks.