Book Review: White Birch
Reviewed by Alexandra Barbush
Literary fiction with a classic feel, White Birch explores how far the hoity-toity of high society are willing to go to maintain their status.
The White Birch, both the name of the novel and the major setting, is an old-time luxury hotel in Tuffty Town. The hotel, like so many that attract a city’s high society, is filled with not-so-secret secrets on every floor. Charming maitre-d’s, eavesdropping maids, and international spies all converge in this captivating setting with intersecting stories and lives.
Henry Huvvy is the main protagonist of White Birch, spending considerable time dining and courting at the titular hotel. Curiously enough, most people at the hotel seem to know him. Your typical gentleman, Huvvy is neatly dressed and adorned of the normal high society type, which lets us know his station right away.
Parading around his hotel paradise, Huvvy lays eyes on an exquisite creature: Kate. He thinks of her suddenly and ardently, all but forgetting about her for a moment when he intersects with an old friend from school: Edward Silhouette.
The girl, of course, is engaged to his old pal Silhouette, and he chances on inviting them across town to one of his beloved seedy dives. When he reluctantly accepts, Huvvy goes on to attempt to seduce and steal (“they’re not married yet!” he repeats to himself) Kate with some luck. He continues on with life as it is, with Kate in the back of his mind after they leave, making business deals and schemes with the hope of reconciliation and eventual togetherness.
At the same time that Huvvy is going around town with the latest and greatest, minor characters who have visited the hotel begin to emerge with their own stories. Most notably, a secret political group, Duma, who seeks to restore their former monarchy and Royal Family to their former glory, prior to the murder of seemingly all members.
Princess Penelope, the last remaining monarch, is secretly stowing away at a sanitarium in the countryside. When she meets a mysterious fellow patient and falls in love with him, she starts to discover the Duma’s existence and their work at attempting to reinstate her and their nation’s former monarchy. At the White Birch, friend and foe intersect inevitably, just as they do with the tangled parallel characters and stories of Lessard’s novel.
I’d recommend this work to anyone interested in literary fiction with a classic feel as well as a bent for atmospheric language. The language suggests a setting of early 20th century England, possibly even London, but no for-sure references can be found. Most of the characters surrounding Huvvy speak in a great and grand British dialect, so much so that the reader should have a taste for the style if they’re able to plow through the novel’s density. The characters aren’t exactly likable; you have to assume that high society has made them used to getting what they want. The secondary plot line of the Duma conflict with the revolutionaries strikes as Bolshevik, with the names suggesting a former Russian monarchy. None of these exact references exist, however, so the reader has to assume the realist approach to fiction doesn’t extend to using actual people, places, or things.
The minor characters, like Huvvy’s scoundrel friends across town, are lighthearted and add a flair of fun to what is primarily a serious novel. One should be prepared to reference back to earlier points of conflict to keep this dense novel straight. Just part one of a trilogy, White Birch sets the scene for a dramatic continuing story of intersecting characters.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Literary Fiction / Humor
Print Length: 402 pages
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