The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams is an epic story with a fresh take on WWII historical fiction.
Beatriz Williams is the author of several different historical fiction novels. Despite my love for the genre, this is actually the first time I’ve read one of her stories. And I’m definitely a fan of her writing style—you can tell she definitely does her historical research.
I was first drawn to The Golden Hour for both the setting in 1940s and also featuring the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. I really didn’t know much about them until I watched season one of Netflix’s The Crown and let’s just say they were quite the complicated couple.
The Golden Hour follows newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrival in Nassau to write a magazine article about its newest wartime residents: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. But as she infiltrates the royal couple’s social circle she discovers that Windsor-era Nassau roils with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension, and in the middle of it all stands Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of charismatic charm and murky national loyalties.
When Benedict Thorpe disappears without a trace, Lulu embarks on a journey to London and beyond to unpick Thorpe’s complicated family history: a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen.
The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple.
The Golden Hour actually has three storylines: Lulu’s arrival and romance with Benedict; her eventual search for him; and Benedict’s mother, Elfriede, 40 years in the past. As you can imagine, these three storylines all eventually blend together into one. These storylines all go back and forth in time and I didn’t find it confusing. But I will say I was much more engaged with both of Lulu’s storylines and I wasn’t exactly sure where Elfriede’s was going.
While it does all come together, I felt, overall, the story is too lengthy (at 462 pages) and that maybe Elfriede’s role in the novel could have been reduced while still maintaining an important presence. Historical fiction is unique in the fact that it’s taking a real-life person or an event and making a fictional story around it. There’s so much information out there, I can see how it’s hard for the authors to know what to cut. But I think unless one is a die-hard historical fiction fan, it’s hard to get the average reader to commit to over 400 pages. I point this out because it is a trend I’m seeing with historical fiction (see The Huntress and Mrs. Everything). All that said, I honestly enjoy all these stories, even if they feel a bit too much long.
There truly are some heartbreaking scenes in this story as it covers undiagnosed postpartum depression and PTSD of fighting in a war. There’s also a focus on the abuse of power by the Duke and Duchess and a real-life murder mystery at the island. I was by far most engaged when Lulu was on the Nassau and all the different dynamics on the island. Her “relationship” with the Duchess was unique and not without its complications. Lulu isn’t like other protagonists, she has a dark past and she’s turns a blind eye to corruption but only for so long.
Final review thoughts: a well-written historical fiction novel about two women doing anything for love.
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