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Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

velvet mary hooper Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

Having been utterly enamoured of Mary Hoopers Fallen Grace, I was more than delighted when a copy of Velvet'arrived on my doorstep. Im pleased to say that my anticipation was entirely justified, as Hoopers latest effort contains many of the same elements that made Fallen Grace'so outstanding.'Though'Velvet'is set some forty years after Fallen Grace, there are a number of parallels that can be drawn between the two, and reading both novels in close succession is certainly a rewarding experienceI recommend doing so if at all possible.

Like Fallen Grace, Velvet'is characterised by an omnipresent sense of fear and desperation: our eponymous heroines continued existence effectively hinges on her employment at a steam laundry, an oppressively hot and daunting environment that evokes, quite aptly, visions of hell. And for Velvet, it is a punishment of sorts: she has had to seek out employment there after the death of her fatherin which she played a role she believes to be unforgiveableleft her a destitute orphan. At the turn of the twentieth century there is, of course, no such thing as a welfare state, and the merest slip-up could see Velvet consigned to the workhouse.

But Velvets purgatory seems to be prematurely broken: having thrown herself into her work she is promoted from the laundry and into the employ of Madame Savoya, a wealthy self-styled clairvoyant who helps connect grieving Londoners with their passed over loved ones. Savoyas motives (and the extent of her skills as a medium) are from the outset quite clear, but Velvet clings to an unwavering hope that Savoya, Velvets personal redemptive angel, is utterly philanthropic in her intentions. Part of this, of course, is Velvets conception of her employer as having saved her from a spiritual desultoriness, but the crux of it is the ever-present spectre of abject poverty, which in these times means homelessness, starvation and ultimately death.

But as Savoyas actions become increasingly questionable, and Velvet, despite herself, begins to put together the pieces of a puzzle she knows will turn out to be thoroughly unpalatable. The scene where she visits her friend Lizzie for Christmas and Dickenss A Christmas Carol'is read out is rather apt indeed now, we see: as Velvet finds herself haunted by not just the ghosts of Savoyas creation, but those from her own pastand if she does not act, her future, too.

Velvet'is a novel of metaphor and nuance, and there are so many allusions and rhetorical devices within its pages that one could spend an age expounding upon them. In many ways its about transformation and renaissance, but with an emphasis on deeds and actions being the true markers of this: though Velvet attempts to become someone else, her cover is always close to being blown until she refocuses her intent and actions.

As in Fallen Grace, death gets a thorough working over, and here the striking disconnect between the utter lack of respect for the value of life and the elaborate mourning rituals and norms in British society at the time is palpable once more. Death and illness are everywhere, but its only the wealthy who are worthy of being mournedand oh, the lengths they go to in doing so, or at least to be seen doing so. The odd war between rationality and science and the spiritualist craze occurring at the time is also worthykeep an eye out for a certain Arthur Conan Doyle.

However, cleverly wrought thematic stuff aside, it has to be said that no small part of the success of the novel is down to Hoopers superb ability at creating characters with whom its impossible not to sympathise: even the most minor characters in Velvet'are eminently memorable. The morally devoid baby farmer is one such character, and the inclusion of this plot thread resonates especially in the wake of Fallen Grace: where Grace of the latter begins her journey with a fateful train ride with a babe in her arms, Velvet takes a similar journey in reverse

My only minor quibble with the novel is the slightly abrupt ending, but given the strength of the rest of the novel Ill indulge in some handwavium and give Ms Hooper a pass on it. In all, Velvet'is a splendid read that has firmly cemented Hooper in my list of must-read authors.

Rating: star Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooperstar Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooperstar Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooperstar Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooperhalfstar Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper (superb)

With thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for the review copy

See my other Mary Hooper reviews

Other books by Mary Hooper:

newes from the dead mary hooper Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hoopersign sugared plum mary hooper Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooperhouse magician mary hooper Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

fallen grace mary hooper Book Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper





  1. Okay, I think I need to try a Mary Hooper book. Where do you recommend I start?

  2. Stephanie /

    Ive only read Fallen Grace and Velvet, but Id highly recommend both of those. :) I plan to get to Marys backlist ASAP, so hopefully I can give you a better-informed opinion shortly!

  3. Fab review, Mary Hooper is a wonderful writer & Im looking forward to reading through the rest of her back list :)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Sarah! :)

      LikewiseI love discovering an author when they have a few books already out. It means I have plenty to enjoy while I wait for their next title!

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