Published: 5 April 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Can the secrets of one woman's past change another woman's future? Cate is a gifted young artist who survives in New York by producing remarkable copies of old Masters. She arrives in London to stay with her aunt Rachel who owns an auction house, determined to leave the pain of her past behind.
Cate is sent to Devon with Rachel's colleague Jack to value the contents of Endsleigh, the grand Georgian home of a former socialite. But inside, its once elegant interiors are now worn with age and dust. Then Cate discovers an old shoebox containing an exquisite pair of silk dancing shoes from the 1930's along with a mysterious collection of objects - a diamond brooch, a photograph of a handsome young sailor, a dance card, and a beautiful pearl and emerald bracelet from Tiffany's.
Unable to solve the questions in her own life, Cate quickly becomes engaged in solving the mystery of the shoe box and begins to unravel the story of Baby Blythe; bright, beautiful and reckless, she was the most famous debutante of her generation. The clues in the box reveal a tale of a dark, addictive love, a tale that will lead Cate to uncover some secrets of her own.
The Debutante sounded like it was going to be an interesting read but it turned out to be a disappointment, mainly due to the bland storytelling and the unlikeable characters.
Cate, a young woman with a troubled past, has returned to England to stay with her aunt and is given the task of valuing the contents of an old Georgian mansion called Endsleigh. Endsleigh once belonged to the recently deceased Irene Blythe, the eldest of the Blythe sisters who were the most famous debutantes of their generation, but since there is no one left to inherit, everything is to be sold off at auction.
While searching the house for items, Cate discovers an old shoebox, containing a pair of dancing shoes, a photograph, a dance card and a Tiffany bracelet. Cate becomes infatuated with Diana ‘Baby’ Blythe, who mysteriously disappeared, and she sets out to solve the mystery.
The truth behind Baby’s disappearance is slowly unfolded in a series of letters interspersed between the chapters detailing Cate’s story, however we are left to piece the clues together for ourselves as we aren’t sure who Baby is even writing to half the time. The letters mean the reader is always one step ahead of our main protagonists, as the letters are not discovered until much later in the book. I found the letters themselves to be quite an intrusive part of the plot, mainly because I’m not a huge fan of stories told via letters, but they seemed very disjointed.
While Cate is investigating Baby’s story, we learn Cate escaped from New York because she was tired of being a mistress to a wealthy man who eventually rapes her when she has the audacity to refuse him. Cate thinks she is being stalked by the man who obviously wants her back but after a confrontation with his wife, the story completely fizzles out.
Cate also gets friendly with Jack, a colleague of Rachel’s, while down at Endsleigh, but the hinted at romance never gets off the ground. Jack discovered his wife was having an affair after losing her in a car crash, so he is not impressed when Cate reveals she was another man’s mistress. Unfortunately, I didn’t find either character remotely likeable so didn’t feel much sympathy.
The mystery surrounding Baby Blythe’s disappearance is resolved by the end of the book, but not in a very satisfying way as there are a lot of threads left dangling. I think this would’ve been a far more interesting story if it had been told from the point of view of the Blythe sisters, as there was lot to focus on regarding their relationship and their respective romances. Cate’s story is nowhere near as interesting and I fail to see how the story of Baby Blythe was so instrumental in changing her life.