It was almost exactly one year ago that I picked up the Book of the Month edition of The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams. I’d been wanting to read something by Beatriz Williams for a few months – all of her books look intriguing – and when it was a June pick on BOTM, I knew I had to get it.
The Golden Hour is a long book (nearly 500 pages), and it packs in a lot of characters and events across a span of 50 years. Even so, Beatriz Williams has an easy writing style that makes the pages fly by.
The main character is Leonora “Lulu” Randolph, a journalist sent to The Bahamas in 1941 to report on the infamous Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She’s a frank and fearless young woman who’s prepared to make her own way in the world. Her warm Caribbean setting and conversational manner are often at odds with what Lulu experiences, though. Political powers are at play as WWII rages on in Europe, racism and colonialism create tensions in her new Bahamian home (sadly, still just as relevant today in the US and around the world), and danger lurks behind closed doors. Although Lulu’s articles are forced to be rather frivolous and dishonestly positive, she strives for more hard-hitting reporting.
Lulu’s time in The Bahamas leads to some revelations of treason, but it also leads to a marriage to a mysterious man, Benedict Thorpe. Botanist or secret British agent? Unclear, but by 1943, he’s been captured by the Germans.
Timeline #2 takes us to the UK in December 1943. Lulu is hunting down her missing husband, hoping against all odds to get him out of Colditz. But knowing little of his past, Lulu has a lot to learn about Benedict Thorpe and the life he left behind.
Finally, timeline #3 takes us back to the early part of the century. In 1900, Elfriede is in Switzerland recovering from a suicide attempt when she meets Wilfred Thorpe, there to overcome pneumonia. Despite their connection, they can’t be together: Elfriede has a devoted husband and a young son waiting for her in Germany.
Elfriede and Wilfred have a drawn-out and complicated love story that is marked by marriage issues, deaths, and missing people. From Switzerland to Germany to Florida to Scotland, their past is a mystery that holds clues for Lulu’s mission in the 1940s.
Although Lulu is set up as the main character and the 1940s the principle timeline, it’s actually Elfriede’s story arc from 1900 through 1916 that is the highlight of The Golden Hour. The characters were more likable, but also felt more real and complete. Despite spanning decades, Elfriede and Wilfred’s story had more space to breathe, more movement within it, and was more emotionally engaging.
Elfriede is a very different woman from Lulu: shy and prone to dark moods and mental illness, yet motherly, loyal, and tenacious. Her story is more of prevailing love and personal strength. As Beatriz Williams states in her historical note at the end of the book, “Elfriede forms the moral backbone of The Golden Hour.”
I always looked forward to the Elfriede chapters, and she could have had a full and satisfying book even without the 1940s parts. (Fun fact: Apparently Elfriede and her son Johann also appear in Beatriz’s 2015 book, Along the Infinite Sea, itself part of a trilogy; I’ll have to read those!)
But all of this doesn’t mean the 1940s parts weren’t good. Indeed, Lulu’s journey through the 1940s and the events of WWII are fascinating. She is a strong character, and the setting of The Bahamas is beautiful and vivid. However, it sometimes feels like things move too slowly and yet not quickly enough. Lulu’s relationships don’t always feel complete or entirely believable. Some revelations are hinted at, but never fully addressed, leaving some plot points feeling incomplete. Lulu would also have benefitted from having her own novel, gaining more room to develop and focus.
However, even with these thoughts, I love how the two worlds came together by the end. The final part of the novel was worth the wait, and the ending was more satisfying than I’d anticipated. Given that, maybe I wouldn’t separate this into two books after all.
The Golden Hour is an impressive novel that ties together diverse characters, journeys, and settings. Beatriz Williams writes vividly, her words springing to life and pulling you into the novel’s world. Although the pacing and balance wasn’t always perfect, The Golden Hour is ultimately a moving and memorable novel, and I’m excited to read more from her.
Luckily, I won’t have to wait long: I just won Beatriz Williams’s new book, Her Last Flight, through a giveaway on Goodreads! Thank you, Goodreads! The book just arrived the other day, so I’ll be starting it tonight. Look out for my review of that next week!