PUBLISHERS WEEKLY ON BECOMING BELLE

In this lively novel from O’Connor (Miss Emily) the story of Isabel Bilton is tracked from a dull Hampshire upbringing under her mother’s thumb to a giddy yet difficult life as a Victorian music hall entertainer and Irish countess. Isabel follows her dream to move to London, cajoling her sister Flo to join her. The two find success as a music hall sister act, and Isabel becomes entangled with a con artist claiming to be a baron from America; her subsequent pregnancy causes him to flee. A good friend, Mr. Wertheimer, sets her up in his country home, where her pregnancy progresses far from the scandal sheets, and helps her find a nursemaid to raise her son. After returning to the stage as “Belle Bilton,” she takes up with an Irish viscount. But after their marriage, his dismayed father forces him to leave the country and eventually sign divorce papers. Awkwardly written sexual encounters and the tedious back and forth between the lovers during their separation are a drawback, but O’Connor skillfully captures the mores of the time and tops it off with a wonderfully suspenseful court case. This is a transportive, enjoyable novel.

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