It was a privilege to have the chance to read this beautiful historical romance. Iona Grey has set her novel in the decade post WW1, where a new generation are coping with both a legacy of loss and parents that are still stuck in the hierarchical society of the Edwardian period. Selina Lennox is one of the ‘Bright Young People’, followed by the press from party to party, and determined to the live the full life that their parents, and especially older siblings, have missed out on. Her family are part of an ailing aristocracy that still has its property but is running short on money. Her elder sister is making an advantageous marriage and since the death of their brother in the war they have the pressure of producing a male heir. Selina is being steered towards the heir of a ruby mining business situated in Burma. Rupert is a war veteran, and it is possibly active service that has made him so stiff and taciturn. Selina finds him too serious and prefers the company of her friends and the social whirl of extravagant parties thrown during the season. One night, while careering through London on a treasure hunt, the car she is travelling in hits a cat. Selina can’t leave the poor creature and is horrified to see her friends disappearing into the night, leaving her in a garden square somewhere in Bloomsbury.
Young, struggling artist Lawrence Weston chances upon Selina and offers his help. They climb into the garden and give the cat a proper burial. Selina is drawn by this dark haired young man but also knows she is taking a huge risk disappearing at night with a stranger who isn’t from within her social circle. Lawrence is transfixed by Selina’s golden beauty and feels an instant connection. He knows she is far above him and her family would be horrified. He lives in a shared house and rents a studio where he paints portraits of the aristocracy’s lost sons of war in all their military splendour. This pays the bills, but he would love to be a photographer and as yet no one sees this as art. Realistically, he has no chance with Selina but can’t seem to stay away despite receiving warnings from most of his friends.
Interspersed with this is the story of Selina’s daughter Alice in the years before WW2. Alice lives back on the family estate and is being looked after by Polly who was Selina’s maid. Alice’s grandparents are still in residence, living the values of a bygone age. Miranda has now given birth to Archie, the all important heir for the estate. Selina is in Burma with her husband and we see their journey in a series of letters she writes to Alice. They clearly have a very loving relationship, so it seems strange that Alice is hidden away in the cold nursery corridor? I kept wondering why, if she loves her daughter as much as she seems to, would Selina leave her with a family who show her no affection? Alice has been sent a treasure hunt from her mother and Polly gives her the clues to follow. Solving the clues takes her to different parts of the estate and, in her mother’s words, should tell her how she came to be. This is how Alice comes to know and love the gardens, especially the deserted Chinese House with its old gramophone. What link could they hold to Selina’s past and Alice’s future?
Iona Grey has created a beautiful novel here, filled with moments of joy and sadness. For me, the meaning of the title encompasses both the historical period and the love story at the heart of the novel. The 1920s do stand as a ‘glittering hour’ – a moment of extravagance, partying and glamour, between two world wars. The generation who were young in that period defied the death that had stalked the previous generation in the trenches and were determined to enjoy life while they could. For Lawrence, Selina is his glittering hour, a moment of pure love and beauty that burns bright but can’t burn forever. Grey shows what happens when we dare to break away from the boundaries and societal rules of our class and how the reverberations from this can last for several generations. The love may not last, but the memories can sustain us for a lifetime.
Out now from Simon & Schuster U.K.
Meet The Author
Iona Grey studied English Language and Literature at the University of Manchester, where she also met her future husband on the last night of her three years there. Throwing herself headlong into marriage and babies, she worked (inefficiently, for the most part) in a series of part time jobs before a chance meeting with bestselling novelist Penny Jordan set her back on the path to her teenage dream of writing unashamedly romantic fiction.
She lives in Cheshire with her husband and three daughters. She is the award-winning author of Letters to the Lost, and her new book The Glittering Hour went on sale December 10, 2019. She is currently working on her third novel.