Sunday, 9 November 2014

Book: A Woman of Her Time by Caroline Gray

Alexandra Mayne ran wild as a child, being expelled from her convent school and thrown out by her aunt. At 15, Alexandra is married, widowed and left with a baby, a little girl she named Mayne. In England she attempts to work as a maid, but ends up surviving as a prositute. But Alexandra isn't happy with that and gets herself set up as a mistress. As her star rises, Alexandra gains more wealth and standing, until her lover dies, leaving her with a home in Paris. Determined she won't have to live on the streets, or with very little money, Alexandra sets herself up as a Madame, and becomes the most celebrated Madame in the Paris area. Though things don't always go to plan, and Alexandra and her staff have to persevere for their rright to survive.

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Before I start, this review is slightly different because I have read this book before (in my early teens). I've been looking for it for a couple of years and finally found a copy. I'll start by saying that I doubt I understood the whole story when I was that age, particularly some of the innuendos and even some of the cultural references. I'd definitely say that this book is for older readers.

Though the main focus of this book is basically on prostitution, the sex involved in the book isn't graphic, though the ideas and thoughts on sexuality and the acts are liberal and open. I'm saying this because I know that some readers could be put off by there being  graphic descriptions of sex, whereas this book is about a bit more than that.

The story follows Alexandra from a young child (I think about 7) until about 40, and shows the ups and downs of her life. As a determined character she wants the best in life for herself, her daughter, Mayne, and her friends/staff. Though she does come across as a fairly caring character, through both the way she treats her staff, and the role she plays in the French resistance, there is also a certain amount of ruthlessness to her. When Alexandra made decisions, she often made them based on how much money she could get from them. In a way this does show her independance as a woman, but in other ways it did dehumanise her. Especially as it was clear that she had never really been in love.

The other characters didn't actually get so much development. Even Mayne, who was in the book for the longest (other than Alexandra) didn't really get all that much development. On some levels she was largely ignored while younger, but as soon as she got to 15 and wanted to be a part of the family business she was seen as a money maker. It was made clear that Alexandra loved her daughter, but at the same time she wasn't given much of a personality.

The most developed characters, other than Alexandra, were probably Madaleine and Alice. Alice was Alexandra's maid from her position as Sir William's mistress, and moved with her from Paris. Alice's development mainly came sexually as she moved from timid to open and confident. Similar can be said for Madeleine, who was the wife of one of Alexandra's lovers, who went from unable to fulfil her desires to working for Alexandra.

Though I thought that the secondary characters lacked a bit of development, I did enjoy the story and it drew me in (again), there was also a very rich cultural backdrop which added to the scene and the story, particularly concerning the World Wars which took place during the events of the novel. I'm definitely glad that I refound this book.