The Debutante: double trouble in the 1930s

Exclusive interview with author Kathleen Tessaro and a review of her new novel

By Gabrielle Pantera.

“About a year ago, I had the idea of writing a novel in which a wayward heroine in present-day London stumbles across a mystery concerning a glamorous young debutante from the late 1920s,” says The Debutante author Kathleen Tessaro. “And as the book develops, their lives and choices began to parallel one another. I was also intrigued by the notion that the story should take place in the Victoria & Albert Museum, mainly because I found it such a fascinating and evocative building.”

The Debutante is a multi-generational romance. It starts with Cate, who leaves New York to go home to London after her heart is broken. She finds a temporary job as an antiques appraiser. As she is working on the appraisal she realizes there’s a mystery surrounding the Blythe sisters. Now deceased, the once beautiful aristocratic sisters Irene and Diana were debutantes in the late 1920s. These two fascinated and shocked society. Jack, a fellow appraiser and widower, has his own demons and ghosts. Cate and Jack reveal secrets and touch upon old scars as they both learn to let go and move forward.

Tessaro knows how to pull you into the two different stories.  She uses letters and objects to convey the lives and drama of the Blythe sisters. This well-written book has vibrant characters. What will draw you in is the history, although you may want to see the whole story that is set in the 1930s together, with the present separated a bit more.

“In my grand scheme, my main character should be called into to help inventory its contents that sets her off, uncovering this other woman’s life and that all the clues for the mystery should be displayed in the vast collection of the V&A,” says Tessaro. “I was thrilled by my seemingly brilliant concept. I became rapidly overwhelmed with the scale of the V&A.”

“One evening I was moaning to my friend, fellow writer Annabel Giles, on the phone,” says Tessaro. “You need something more manageable, like a shoebox. A week later, Tessaro met her friend. She’d brought a fragile shoebox. It contained a pair of tiny, silver mesh dancing shoes. I was to discover later that, packed underneath the newspaper, she’d thoughtfully hidden a selection of unrelated objects.”

Tessaro’s inspiration for the characters of Irene and Diana “Baby” Blythe was culled from the Mitford sisters, Zita and Teresa Jungman, the Curzon sisters and the Vanderbilts.”

Tessaro was born in Pittsburgh and recently moved back there after living in London for 23 years. She doesn’t have a website.

The Debutante: a Novel Author Kathleen Tessaro. Trade Paperback, 400 pages, Publisher: Avon A; Original edition (October 5, 2010),  Language: English

Rating: 3 stars