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An Absolute Scandal: A Novel
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2008
Bear with me for a moment, for a history refresher course for those who don't remember (or weren't acutely aware of) the scandal that hit famous British insurance agents Lloyd's of London back in the late 1980s. Lloyd's insurance policies (perhaps most famous to Americans for insuring unusual items such as Celine Dion's vocal cords and Tina Turner's legs) are underwritten primarily by a society of individual members (known as "Names"), who pool their sizable investments in the company, ideally to spread the risk and limit individual liability in the case of large claims.

For many, many years, being a Name at Lloyd's was considered akin to a risk-free investment, as members received sizeable annual returns on their considerable investments. In the late 1980s, however, primarily as a result of larger-than-expected claims from American workers stricken with asbestosis, Lloyd's Names were suddenly assessed huge amounts of money, to the extent that thousands of these formerly wealthy individuals declared bankruptcy.

Okay, enough with the history lesson. Fortunately, Penny Vincenzi's latest novel, which is set amidst a circle of Lloyd's Names during this crisis, is remarkably engrossing despite its fairly dry and complicated subject matter. Or, perhaps, not so remarkably, as readers familiar with Vincenzi's previous books have come to expect epic page-turners from this prolific British author. AN ABSOLUTE SCANDAL, likewise, will keep her audience gripped in the lives and loves of this small group of privileged but unfortunate investors.

There are the Beaumonts, Simon and Elizabeth, a well-off family with three children, from all appearances living the ideal British upper-class lifestyle, complete with private schools, a house in the country (complete with pony) and two fabulously successful careers. When Lloyd's starts to demand money, however, this financial pressure reveals some of the other cracks in the Beaumonts' façade, including Simon's infidelity and oldest daughter Annabel's misbehavior (and embarrassing career ambitions).

There are the Cowpers, Lucinda and Nigel, a young, attractive upper-class couple. Nigel is a bit stuffy and boring --- and a Name at Lloyd's. Lucinda is dissatisfied, bored --- and too eager to fall into the arms of a devastatingly handsome, exciting stranger. She longs to leave her husband, but Nigel's (morally and legally suspect) decision to transfer all of his financial holdings to Lucinda in the wake of the Lloyd's scandal threatens to tie Lucinda's hands --- for a while.

And there are the Fieldings, Debbie and Richard. Debbie is a bored housewife, resentful of her husband's wealthy mother, Flora, who has used her returns from Lloyd's to pay the private school tuition of Debbie and Richard's two children. As for Richard, he's a successful headmaster --- but when Flora's checks stop coming, he can't keep the family in the style to which they've become accustomed. Could the Lloyd's scandal be Debbie's chance to reignite her professional and personal ambitions?

The novel's prologue hints at a tragic outcome for one of the key players in this drama. But for the most part, barring the inevitable affairs, rumors, secrets and lies, the action of Vincenzi's latest marches confidently toward a more optimistic future than the one most of these Names envision when Lloyd's starts calling in the chips. Some fans will be surprised by the tighter focus and time frame of this book as opposed to some of her other multi-generational sagas. Vincenzi still has a knack, however, for drawing readers into her characters' personal and professional dramas, and making hours curled up under the duvet (or spread out on the beach blanket) pass by almost effortlessly as they lose themselves in other people's lives.

--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I adore Penny Vincenzi books, and ABSOLUTE SCANDAL was no exception. With Vincenzi you know you are going to get a big book filled with fascinating characters, complicated plot lines, lush settings, lots of sex and scandal, gorgeous homes and clothes and jewels, and intricate family relationships. After reading my first Vincenzi, I promptly went about finding and ordering all the rest of her books. I've now read about ten of them, but I'm saving the final few. Every few weeks I plan to reward myself with one of them. I just wish she could write faster! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2009
This novel is a big one both physically and in subject matter. It concerns the financial scandal of Lloyd's of London and the personal scandals that arise in its wake among the Names involved. It is clear that the author has done much research on the situation that occurred and was well informed of the facts. It is hard to believe that the arrangement that led the characters into so much trouble actually existed in real life!

There is a wide cast of characters that at first seems overwhelming and hard to keep them all straight. Halfway through the novel I was familiar and involved with all of them since each one is written thoughtfully and has their own shortcomings and good points. They were very believable and I felt for most of their situations. The only reason I didn't give five stars is that I felt some of their stories could have been gone into in less depth, such as Lucinda and Blue, but of course that is my own personal taste and that story may be other people's favorite in the book.

This was my first Penny Vincenzi book and I intend to read more of her work! I loved this book and am a little sad it's over.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2009
While this is a "good read" it was very disappointing to me because I compared it to her earlier novels - I really enjoyed her triology of the Lytton family saga (beginning with No Angel) and I also enjoyed Sheer Abandon. I will however read more of her earlier work.
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on February 20, 2014
I loved this book end to end. I felt for every single character. Not only is it a remarkable story, but the reader is exceptional--made the story come to life with the narration.
The story line was about the losses and lives impacted by the Lloyds of London scandal.
There were some other scandals as a backdrop. But characters were so real---they made me happy, sad, hopeful, and anxious. People were drawn out to make you feel you knew them.
Although the people were flawed, you understood inside them whether you agreed with their actions or not. No book captured me like this one. I never understood the Lloyds of London scandal in any way. Although I understood the stock market collapse of the 80s from the US perspective. I loved this book maybe better than any I've ever read or listened to. I got it on the 28 CD version from my local library-thinking it was some light airy reading I picked up on a fluke. It was such a brilliant surprise. I was so happy to make this choice. Listen to this book audio and you will not want to stop walking for miles and miles and miles (which is what I got the audio version). This reader should be paid extra--I listen to audio books daily in my commute and at home during mindless work/tasks. The reader can destroy it. This one did the opposite I think--MADE it. I loved it. 6 stars if they had it. It gripped me once it got past the lead in, when I though it was going to be a fluffy romance book like it sounded. So not. Real life. And all it brings to you.
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on June 19, 2011
I've been searching for some time now to find a halfway decent novel that was deliciously naughty but written intelligently. I found what I was looking for in Vicenzi's wickedly entertaining novel, "An Absolute Scandal." While it started less than interesting, I was determined to give it a chance to develop and I'm so glad I did. There was a multitude of characters to follow which could, at times, make it difficult to follow (I often had to flip back to previous passages to remember who was who early on) but it in the end, Vicenzi's ending felt neither too contrived nor painfully depressing. It was also remarkably easy to sympathize with the characters -- even those who made more "unsavory" decisions than others -- and while I wished there could have been more development of particular individuals, for a book that fell just slightly short of 600 pages, it probably wouldn't have been too practical. This is not a difficult read and I managed to finish it in about three days (including reading the remaining 2/3 during most of a Saturday). This is the first novel I've read of Penny's and I'm sure it definitely won't be the last. If you can tolerate the jumping from one character's perspective to the next, you're a bit of an Anglophile, and you want a novel that's more than just your typical romance story, "An Absolute Scandal" won't disappoint!
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on July 11, 2010
It was away that the rich and not so rich in Britian got money by being a Name with Lloyd's of London. But then in late 1980's every changed and instead of getting money they started losing money and having to pay Lloyd's. This cause a great change for many. For Simon and Elizabeth Beaumont it would changes that they might survivie. For Lucinda and Nigel Cowper it may help lead the of their marriage and for Cahtherine Martin a not so well-to-do she may have to make some choices that she doesn't want. But one thing is clear the end of Lloyd's of London will change them all forever.
"An Absolute Scandal" is a great book by Penny Vincenzi, fill with rich and interesting characters. Ms. Vincenzi a true situration and brings it to the human on how people were hurt about the failing of a company. Ms.Vincenzi a great storyteller and her books should not be missed
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on April 22, 2014
This novel is a tale of family, friends, lovers and life itself. This story is based on upper crust society, always playing at " when is enough, enough ? " When money is always at play and money should not be everything, only to see that it is everything or nothing at all. Power and greed in the all powerful is unrelenting with many twists and turns of life itself depends on clashes of families and big business.
Over many centuries this banking family has survived many dramas and loses and at this time is in a quandary of how to overcome the latest disaster unfolding in each, both business and family lives. How each character lends themselves to the plot, is follow their stories to the end.
Interesting reading of how society reacts to the economy of past times and if and how they survive in tact.

Thank you.
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on August 16, 2010
A word of warning first...you must read this book when you have a lot of time on your hands because it's very big and very engrossing. It covers the lives of various people hit by the Lloyds insurance scandal, and although it was written years ago, it could actually relate to recent economic events nicely. Very entertaining, very engrossing. The only issues are that I felt perhaps it could have been cut down by a third. Also, there was one plot twist concerning Fiona Fielding that I thought would not have happened in real life.
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on December 5, 2010
This was my first Vincenzi book, and now I must read more!!! Great story, totally engrosses you and causes you to forget prior appointments.

There are a lot of characters, but you feel as if you know them all personally. You will cry and you will laugh while reading this book. The snobbery of the Americans (Bostonians) is particularly hilarious. Great story all around. If you're contemplating buying it, go for it!
As for people saying it weighs a lot, get the smaller lightweight paperback.
:D
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