In 1911, eighteen year old Delia Conisborough is newly married, and eager to leave behind her home in Virginia to live in England with her new husband, a viscount. Ivor is a widower, and Delia believes he is still mourning the death of his wife Olivia. On her arrival in England, she learns that not everything is as it appears to be in Ivor’s world. After discovering Ivor’s secret, Delia decides to continue her life with him, but nothing is the same. After Delia gives birth to two daughters, Petra and Davina, the family moves to Cairo, and most of the rest of the novel plays out there- first from Delia’s perspective, then from the perspectives of her daughters and the men that love them.
I had pretty mixed emotions when it came to this book. Overall, it’s not a bad book. The story was interesting, and I didn’t have any trouble becoming engrossed. But I felt like it could have been a much better book than it was. For starters, the book felt very disjointed. Part of this is because the book is divided into five sections, each of which focuses on a different character. There are jumps in the time frame that aren’t really accounted for. Davina, for example, seems to go from being twenty to twenty five over night. Secondly, the sections aren’t at all evenly split between the characters: Delia’s section covers twenty years of her life; at the end, Jack’s section covers a few weeks, maybe a few months. It also bothered me that, after each character had his or her section, they took a major backseat to the others. Petra all but disappeared from the novel after her section.
There’s a lot of name dropping of famous Britons and Egyptians from the 20th century: Delia and Ivor are a part of a very well connected circle (he’s a financial advisor to the King), and everyone from Winston Churchill to Wallis Simpson is a part of her social group. I don’t mind reading historical fiction that focuses on ordinary or average people, but for a novel that wasn’t really about real people, there sure are a lot of them flitting in and out of the novel.
There were some things about Palace Circle that I really enjoyed and appreciated, though. For example, there aren’t a lot of fictional works that address the transition from colonial rule to independent rule for former British colonies. Additionally, as someone who knows next to nothing about Egyptian history following, well, the beginning of the Common Era, it was interesting to read about Egypt in the twentieth century. Though I’ve no idea what’s true of what Ms. Dean wrote, I am now looking for some books on twentieth century Egyptian history.
I don’t know whether I can definitively recommend or not recommend this book (and for some, that may be an answer in and of itself). It’s good, and I definitely wouldn’t turn down any future books Dean might write, but I’m not really over the moon about it the way I have been over other books I’ve read this year.
Rating: 3 stars
Qualifying Challenges: 100 Books, Countdown Challenge, 999 Challenge, Pub Challenge
999 Category: ARC/Review Books