The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
Published by Henry Holt & Company on May 5, 2020 (expected)
Genre(s): fiction, contemporary, historical fiction, women’s fiction
Format & Length: e-book, 320
Anna Solomon’s kaleidoscopic novel intertwines the lives of a Brooklyn mother in 2016, a senator’s wife in 1970s Washington, D.C., and the Bible’s Queen Esther, whose stories of sex, power and desire overlap and ultimately converge—showing how women’s roles have and have not changed over thousands of years.
Lily is a mother and a daughter. And a second wife. And a writer, maybe? Or she was going to be, before she had children. Now, in her rented Brooklyn apartment, she’s grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife.
Vivian Barr seems to be the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic and ambitious husband find success in Watergate-era Washington D.C. But one night he demands a humiliating favor, and her refusal to obey changes the course of her life—along with the lives of others.
Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. When an innocent mistake results in devastating consequences for her people, she is offered up as a sacrifice to please the king, in the hopes that she will save them all.
Following in the tradition of The Hours and The Red Tent, The Book of V. is a bold and contemporary investigation into the enduring expectations and restraints placed on women’s lives.
The Book of V. is a complex and interesting story that left me with mixed feelings.
“She will tell her daughters the truth, Lily thinks. Not yet, but sooner than her mother told her. Not the details, but the gist. She will tell them: The type of woman you imagine yourself becoming does not exist.”
This book explores womanhood and how it has and hasn’t changed over time through the stories of three different women: Lily, a mother living in Brooklyn in 2016; Vivian, a senator’s wife in 1970s Washington, D.C.; and the Bible’s Queen Esther. The voices of each narrative are distinct, making it easy to follow and always know who’s timeline you are reading. And the way the stories intertwined and played off each other was interesting. Esther’s narrative did take a turn from the Biblical version, which didn’t entirely work for me. I don’t mind a retelling that changes or embellishes elements, but this added a magical realism element that didn’t quite sit right with the rest of the story.
The Book of V. kept me intrigued and reading – albeit somewhat slowly – right up until the end. This isn’t exactly a fast paced novel. Instead, it’s more character study of these women and how their lives fit into the larger theme of womanhood through the ages. I did close it feeling unsatisfied and after thinking about it for several days, I’m still not entirely sure why. I feel like I should be the right reader for this, as a thirty something woman who’s had to figure out my place in life. But despite the intriguing premise and some powerful writing, it just didn’t entirely click for me.
Although The Book of V. didn’t entirely work for me, I do think it will be a hit for the right reader. If this sounds like your kind of book, go ahead and give it a chance.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing an arc of this edition via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.