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What Caroline Knew: A Novel Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0312343125 ISBN-10: 0312343124 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312343124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312343125
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,232,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cultural critic for the New York Times, James hangs her inert second novel (after Glorie) on an erotic painting and its repercussions for the reputations of both subject and artist. Caroline Stephens is a beautiful blue blood in Jazz Age New York who becomes a patron of young artists to allay the boredom of her respectable but sleepy marriage and the stuffiness of her old-moneyed social world. Sensuality and propriety, bohemia and convention war within her—but respectability ultimately rules. She promotes a handsome painter, Nick Leone, and is incensed at his betrayal when he reveals a "pornographic" nude of her at his opening exhibition in 1927. A scandal erupts; she insists she never posed for the painting; and she and her family set out to ruin Nick. James frames the story from the viewpoint of Caroline's great-nephew, Philip, at the time of the painting's 2002 exhibition at the Met, but the bulk of the novel consists of Caroline's first-person story as told to Philip. This structure—and several slowly doled out revelations about the real circumstances of Nick and Caroline's relationship—makes for little narrative tension. Add Caroline's implausible callousness as things get worse for Nick, and the result is a muddled read. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Is anything more delicious than a high-society scandal engagingly presented? James' novel suggests nothing is, as art patron Caroline Stephens, daughter of Old New York Society and wife of conservative businessman Harrison Stephens, "plays at being a Medici" in 1927 and wheedles "Harry" into bankrolling a high-profile gallery opening of paintings by Nick Leone. Intimations of trouble come when Harry helps her on with her wrap and remarks, "Is that a dress or a slip?" and a friend, noting the low cut of Caroline's frock, adds, "I must congratulate you on your extremely straight spine." Then Leone unveils a nude portrait of her, later described by newspapers as "lewd" and "pornographic," depicting her "tickling her private parts." She swoons, and scandal envelops her and the painting, which disappears. Flash forward to 2002, when the past is exhumed: the elderly Caroline recalls her flaming youth, which also included making out with the exciting Spencer in an upstairs bedroom while her and Harry's engagement party was in full swing. Love that high society! Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ellen Pall on March 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
With a silky purr, James' protagonist Caroline Stephens draws you effortlessly in to the luxe, luscious world of old New York money in the 1920's. It's a while before you realize that your new friend is a boa constrictor. As the story unfolds, James repeatedly switches the lens through which the reader sees her characters, so that reading the book is like peering into a turning kaleidoscope. The story keeps twisting and tightening right up till the final pages. The book is a pleasure to read: swift, assured and full of wonderful period details.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. Berner on May 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ms. James began with an intriguing idea: a society matron in the 1920s is scandalized when one of the artists she supports unveils a nude painting of her at an opening.

Unfortunately, Ms. James has a tin ear for history. The New York society she portrays has a philistine ignorance of modern art. But the modern art movement was supported by the wealthiest people in New York society. It would never have gotten off the ground without people named Dodge, Whitney, Vanderbilt and Guggenheim and the lesser lights of society scrambled to keep up. Ms. James is also a lazy writer: there are no "walk ons" of real people, which tests the mettle of a writer of historical fiction. Worse, she just plunks her characters into a milieu she calls the 1920s without bothering to research the era. When she talks about artists her character supports, we get one or two famous names and then just something generic along the lines of "and many others." If she was too lazy to spend an hour in the library, she could have just done what F. Scott Fitzgerald did and make up a bunch of names. Similarly, there is no attention to the way people thought, how they lived or even just of the products they used. The book consists of 21st Century Yuppies in fancy dress.

Like many people who have spent too long at The New York Times, her workmanlike prose is as flat as three day old champagne. The Grey Lady's Style Book is death to distinguished letters and Ms. James did not escape the curse.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amy Bischoff on April 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was an easy read, in fact I read it in an afternoon. It was interesting enough; I kept turning the pages to see what would happen to our dear socialite. She's believable, we feel empathy for her but we never quite understand her. What this book lacks is resolution. I just read 200+ pages and Caroline has still taken secrets to her grave. There are still unanswered questions about the portrait. Maybe it is the author's right to leave a mystery unsolved but it violates the rules of "good" writing not to restore readers to a point of equilibrium and the author never takes us there. In the end, an interesting read but seemingly unfinished.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Thelma Adams on March 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
James's juicy novel is an elegant, insightful exploration of one woman's brush with fame and notoriety. It's as lush and seductive as a John Singer Sargent portrait. What Caroline Knew is an absolute must-read that can't be put down once started.
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