Lucy Carelton belongs to one of the oldest and most prominent families in 1880s New York City, and her husband is a stockbroker, of “new” money, who clearly married her for the connections she brings him. Lucy’s a fairly typical example of a woman of her upbringing, except for the fact that she suffers from her nerves, and no doctor so far has been able to help her. Enter Dr. Victor Seth, who practices the up-and-coming trend of hypnosis to treat patients. The result is an exploration of the subconscious and Lucy’s sexual awakening that is quite startling in the questions it raises.
A short while ago I read and reviewed another one of Megan Chance’s novels, The Spiritualist. There are some superficial similarities between the two books, but I enjoyed An Inconvenient Wife more. There’s a lot more depth to Lucy’s character, and Chance is adept at getting into her mindset, which I think might be hard for any author to do. Yes, there is a feminist overtone to this novel, but the author doesn’t hit her reader over the head with it. On the contrary, the reader gets the feeling that Lucy is completely a woman of her time—or, at lease, she tries to behave in the ways that society dictates.
The pace of the book is fast and lively, and the story and its subject matter are thought-provoking (and, according to the author interview in the back, closely modeled on fact). Lucy herself is an enigma, too: how much of what she narrates can you really believe is the truth? Or are the reports by Dr. Seth and other doctors a better indication of her mindset?
My only problem with this otherwise superb book was that the beginning was a little shaky. I couldn’t help but think that Lucy’s oft-mentioned breakdown at Caroline Astor’s party would have been the perfect scene to grab the reader’s attention early on. Alas, we only ever hear about it. But other than that one little thing, I highly recommend this excellent novel about Gilded Age New York and a woman struggling with her identity.
Also reviewed by: A Garden Carried in the Pocket