Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin

Publisher: Berkley Books
Released: June 25, 2019
Received: Finished copy and e-galley from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I wasn't convinced I actually wanted to read this book when I received an invitation to the e-galley and tour. I find this time period interesting, but it's definitely not an era I read in much. So I added it to my e-reader with bland disinterest and opened it with the intention of reading a few sentences to try to hype myself into reading it, eventually.

And I was hooked. Ravenously. I couldn't stop reading. I put aside the books I was already in the middle of reading and dove in.

There was so much that just clicked with me about this book. The sense of time and place. The fabrics, smells, and tensions were thick in the air. I felt utterly immersed. We see Schiap and Chanel from the periphery and this made them both seem larger than life, known-but-mysterious. It was captivating. Their clothing collections, their political movements, their social circles, and their bitter, invigorating rivalry...ah, I loved every minute of it.

The main character is one of those somewhat bland, somewhat sympathetic, somewhat relatable characters. We see the story through her eyes, and while I often don't like this narrative device, sometimes I really love it and this is one of those times. Her own tragic story tugged at my heartstrings and her tentative and slow burn reawakening romance was quietly engrossing. I loved how both Schiap and Coco gave her clothes. This was like the sartorial equivalent of reading a book about an old Gothic mansion and vicariously possessing it.

There are almost three stories here: Schiap and Coco's rivalry, the main character's tragedy and romance, and the onset of WWII. The latter simmers in the background in the beginning, slowly pushing its way more and more into the story until it cannot be ignored, much like I imagine the onset of the war would have felt at the time. I loved the feelings of the book, the subtle and mounting tension of the war, the crackling razor edges of the rivalry, so prominent at first and then shattering under the weight of the war, the stupor of tragedy and magical awakening of love and healing. 

Another aspect I loved were the constant references to art and color. The main character is a painter, Schiap and Coco use fabric and perfume as their canvas. I Googled many paintings referenced, immersed myself in colors, imagined the feel of different fabrics, looked up images of referenced clothing collections, smelled the referenced perfumes. This book was an unexpected sensory delight.

This is definitely a book I can see having a love or hate reaction from readers. If it clicks with you like it did with me, then you're in for a fantastic treat. If not, then I can definitely see this one boring readers. In that way it reminded me of Sally Beauman's The Visitors, which is another book I was sucked into and think about long after having finished it.

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