Historical Fiction: The House of Velvet and Glass, by Katherine Howe

The House of Velvet and Glass

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1915, Boston. Helen Allston and her daughter, Eulah, perished on the Titanic, and three years later, the patrician Allstons are still in mourning. Eldest daughter Sibyl (aptly named) continues to frequent seances, looking for a message from her mother that might give her some peace. Sibyl is a spinster at age 27, taking over her mother’s job of running the family home on Beacon Hill. When her younger brother, Harley, is thrown out of Harvard for unsavory behavior, Sibyl’s former beau, now a professor of psychology, re-enters her life. Harley’s bohemian girlfriend, Dovie, also enters the picture, and teaches Sibyl a thing or two about loosening up a bit. In the process, Sibyl learns that she has the gift of clairvoyance. Is it a curse or a gift? It certainly brings pain….

Sibyl’s story is an appealing one, sure to resonate with anyone who has suffered loss. Is it a believable one? The answer depends upon the reader’s point of view. Her journeys into the future are paralleled with flashbacks into the earlier lives of her father and mother, which provide clues into what’s going on in Sibyl’s head. For the open minded, the clairvoyance angle works; otherwise, it’s just so much claptrap. What makes it interesting, either way, is watching how Sibyl’s relationship with her father, brother’s paramour, and former suitor develop, and how her take on life in general undergoes a metamorphosis. Part melodrama, part psychological drama, The House of Velvet and Glass offers an intriguing tale which raises questions about social class, religious beliefs, free will, and the nature of grief.


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