Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review: A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

This book was on a list of the 100 Top Books You Must Read or Else You Can't Die, which I acquired...somewhere.  I probably Mooched it, and I am glad I finally read it.  I loved it.  I'd heard of the book, but never knew what it was about.  When I read the description on the back, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it.  It seemed very...eighties (although it was written in 1979, many of the ideals of wealth and privilege made me think of the ME decade).

The book is about Emma Harte, a young Yorkshire girl who lives in poverty, but dreams about becoming a woman of substance some day.  It tells the story of how Emma rises from the poverty of her youth to become a department store mogul and wreaks her own kind of vengeance on those who have wronged her.

I don't know what it was about the book that I loved so much.  It reminded me in some ways of the L.M. Montgomery books I adored as a girl, although it seemingly didn't have much in common with them.  Maybe it was the young girl protagonist, with big dreams, and the strength of will to make them come true.  It also made me nostalgic for my own youth, when department stores reigned (not many of those left anymore, with the advent of internet shopping).  There was a little too much purple prose for me - are anyone's eyes REALLY emerald green?  Or purple!?  And how much description of fine furniture and clothing does one really need?  Emma's wealthy - we. get. it.  My biggest issue with the book was that I felt some distance from Emma and didn't fully engage with her emotionally.  I wanted to sob when Emma's life turned upside down, but I never did.  And despite the hardships she encountered in her life, things seemed to come very easily for Emma - she almost couldn't fail.  Life just isn't like that.  But I was able to put aside those minor quibbles as I got swept up in Emma's charge to the top.  I couldn't put the book down.  Finishing a 900-page book in two weeks is almost unheard of for me, but I did it.

I honestly would give this book five out of five Whatevers.  It is going on my permanent shelves, as I can imagine myself going back to it for a re-read periodically.  It's also good to know that there are several sequels to dive into, and I've already Mooched those!  Recommended for those who like a good rags-to-riches story, for those who miss the days of monstrous department stores, and who like a good, strong heroine.