Among other things, the book is an homage to classic American cinema. You know the movies I'm talking about. The beautiful romances between debonair actors like Cary Grant or Clark Gable and fabulous leading women who always look a little soft around the edges in their closeups, as if their sheer radiance was too much for the old-time cameras to photograph properly- all photographed on black and white film. Those movies that people are still watching 80 years later because they are such great romances. If you don't like those movies, maybe this book isn't for you- although the language is so deliciously, exactly, wonderfully wonderful that any well-read person is sure to appreciate it.
In addition to the numerous references to the silver screen, the book is also a nod to countless characters from works of great literature. Sara Crewe, Jo and Beth March, Anne Shirley, Jen Pringle, Mary Lennox, Scout and Jem, Uriah Heap, Miss Havisham, Lear and Cordelia, Voldemort, and Snape are just a handful of the characters I remember being referenced in the book- each a little golden nugget tucked into the pages of a delightful story about family, love, loss, being lost, being found, finding love again, and finding what it is that we love.
Keeping true to the homage, the author takes a classic movie approach to the sex in this book. The main character describes a date with her dream-come-true saying,
"I'm a fan of suggestion, obliquity, discretion, the cut to the morning after, the camera's eye turning upward, outward-to the sky, to the cuckoo clock over the bed, to the rushing river, away. Forget those slick bodies tangled on the floor or grappling on kitchen tables. Sexy is Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed talking into the same telephone receiver, their anger tipping reluctantly over into desire, the desire as much in the distance separating their two mouths as in their proximity to each other. What I'm saying is, you're not getting details-not detailed details anyway. If you're anything like I am and, like most people, I assume most people are like I am, this is just fine with you."
Refreshing and romantic and yet you feel every minute of the time they're together. Don't get me wrong, it's not all Amish level action. There is a scene with one of the antagonists that is less subtle, but it is not the focus and is tastefully handled by the author.
To quote the book, "it is definitely on the list of perfect things. You know what I mean, the list that includes the starry sky over the desert, grilled cheese sandwiches, The Great Gatsby, the Chrysler building, Ella Fitzgerald singing, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)," white peonies, and those little sketches of hands by Leondardo da Vinci." Would that we all would take author Sarah Ban Breathnach's advice and "excavate our authentic selves". What is on your list of perfect things?
(I suppose to be fair to that other book, I should include here that this book does have some obscenity in it as well. I think I counted the f-word seven times and the misuse of the names of God and the Savior a number of times. Although I think obscenity is never appropriate, I found it considerably less offensive in this book because the characters who were using it were usually incensed about something, as opposed to just casually slipping it in, accomplishing nothing but the muddying of the English language and it's accepted vernacular.)
I would recommend this book to the well-read and the lover of romances. I think it is my new favorite book of all time. I am re-reading it now at a slower pace to be sure that is an accurate statement. Even if it turns out not to be, it is DEFINITELY up there. I don't think it is a book that will ever be a best-seller and I noticed that it only had an average rating on Goodreads of 3.87 or something close to that but I believe this is because the vocabulary and the literary references are too advanced to appeal to the masses.
The one and only problem I had with the book was that I truly had to suspend reality when it came to the character Clare, an 11 year-old girl with a working vocabulary- and at times an intellect- superior to anyone I met at college. I was able to overlook Clare because, to me, Cornelia (the adult in the book) is the most real person I have ever read on the page.
Read this book. Or don't- but if you don't I think you're missing out.