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Silk - Penny Jordan (review)

Silk

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE COVER blurb invites us to spoil ourselves with this “dazzling, delicious treat” by international best-selling author Penny Jordan. But is Silk all that it promises or simply a damp squib?

A Prologue introduces Silk‘s heroine, the 90 year-old Amber, but quickly rolls back the years to November 1929 and her seventeenth birthday. Six hundred and thirty six pages later, it’s 1940 yet the story hasn’t remotely come full circle. The reason – Silk is the first in a trilogy recording the life of Amber Vrontsky, heiress to the Pickford dynasty.

Head of this fabulous dynasty is Blanche, the formidable matriarch who, obsessed with social climbing, wants nothing more for her granddaughter than a titled husband – something that despite her immense wealth, she herself failed to secure.

However, free-spirited Amber would prefer to pursue an artistic career with the silk she loves so much but, unable to disobey Blanche, moves instead to London to become a debutante – and enters a world of illicit affairs, drug taking, gambling, lavender marriages and corruption. It’s there too that she meets the enigmatic Lord Robert.

Robert, though, isn’t the only man in the young Amber’s life. There’s her brother Greg; her childhood friend Jay Fulshawe, the grandson of Barrant de Vries, the man who so heartlessly humiliated the young Blanche; and the charismatic French artist Jean-Philippe du Breveonet.

Spanning a period in history that was as glamorous as it was turbulent, Silk not only embraces the world of the beautiful fabric of the title, it dares to leave the comparative safety of Cheshire and London for the hazardous opium dens of the Far East and the Nazi-controlled streets of Berlin. Moreover, it does so extremely well – thanks to Jordan’s meticulous research. Though quite where that took her with regards to male homosexual practices, I can’t imagine!

Although not a taxing read, Silk does have much to commend it – far more, in fact, than the Mills and Boon novels it’s been likened to. For a start, Jordan’s characters are well drawn and develop very much in keeping with the story. This is particularly so with Amber who matures from naive debutante to confident and caring wife and mother.

Moreover, Jordan cleverly introduces real people to her narrative, so that fictional characters rub shoulders with famous names such as Cecil Beaton, Emerald Cunard, Diana Guinness, Tom Mosely and even Edward and Mrs Simpson. And although there is an element of predictabilty, things don’t always turn out as you might expect.

I doubt very much if Silk will ever make the GCSE syllabus (but who knows – stranger things have happened). It is though, very enjoyable – ideal for lazy afternoons by the fireside or equally, languorous days by a hotel pool. So, while not exactly “dazzling”, it is something of a treat. All of which makes the second in the trilogy more than welcome.