What a treat it is to read a Penny Vincenzi novel! The blurb from Daily Express likens The Decision to a “glass of Champagne: bubbly, moreish and you don’t want it to end.” I’ve never read Vincenzi before, but I was in the mood for a Champagne-type novel. True enough, The Decision was like a bubble bath of a book — luxurious, frothy and oh so indulgent.
To be clear, the book tackled a lot of very serious issues as well, particularly women’s rights and the role of a mother. It had its emotional moments, and at times, I was literally outraged at how Matt (the hero) treated Eliza (the protagonist). However, all these were framed within the story of a delightful Mad Men world of fashion, travel and romance. Escapist fiction with big ideas — love it!
To tell you more about The Decision, here’s a video I found on Vincenzi’s website, where Vincenzi herself tells us about the book and reads some excerpts:
From the prologue and the back cover, we already know what’s going to happen to Matt and Eliza’s relationship — it won’t work out, and they’ll have a messy custody battle over their daughter Emmie. To my surprise, Matt and Eliza get married almost halfway through my 758-page ARC. Forget any concern about spoilers — the custody battle alluded to in the prologue only about 3/4 through the book, so you’re reading hundreds of pages about Matt and Eliza’s romance, with the full knowledge that it won’t last.
To my even greater surprise, it didn’t matter at all that I knew how it was going to turn out — I still had a great time watching it unfold. A lot of that is because of the world Vincenzi created, filled with fascinating characters you can’t help but root for. Take Eliza, for example. Raised in a wealthy family that just wants her to marry rich and have babies, Eliza prefers to be a successful career woman in the fashion industry. She has a natural instinct for fashion, and I loved watching her organize fashion shoots and come up with ideas for magazine features. It’s a glamourous world, and Vincenzi’s writing just wraps us up in it.
I especially love that despite her ambition, Eliza agrees to give up her career to raise a family with Matt. I didn’t agree with her decision, and in fact Eliza’s reluctance to do so was very evident. However, I love the complexity it added to her character. She wasn’t even a starry-eyed Bella Swan type; rather, she was a mature yet vulnerable young woman, like Julia Stiles’ character in Mona Lisa Smile, who wanted to make her marriage work. I didn’t agree with her decision, and given how unhappy it made her, I couldn’t really respect it, but I did sympathize with it, and with her. I especially, especially love that, even after having made the decision to give up her career, Eliza clearly struggles with it every day. I can imagine how many women in the 60s did face that dilemma, and I love how textured and complex Eliza’s character was.
Then there’s Matt. Ambitious, handsome, with a huge chip on his shoulder about his working class background, he was appealing as he fought to make his way in real estate, and he got annoying when he married Eliza. Team Eliza all the way! That, of course, is me reacting as a woman. Matt’s old-fashioned attitudes about gender roles were very apt for the time period, and I cheered every time Eliza or another woman (usually his sister Scarlett or his business partner Louise) stood up to him.
Beyond the romance, however, the female characters really shone in this book. Louise is an even stronger, more ambitious, woman than Eliza, and her tough negotiation tactics with Matt and other male colleagues made me cheer. You go, girl! Reading about Scarlett’s love life felt like watching a soap opera, and I love the man she eventually ended up with.
The pace slowed down somewhat once we got to the custody case. From a fun, lighthearted read, the book switches over to a more sombre, emotional tone. I was still definitely Team Eliza in the case, and I felt her horror as she looked back at various incidents in her past that seemed innocuous then but that could now lead to her losing her child. I also realized, as she did, the financial impact giving up her career had on her ability to fight her husband in a legal battle. It was horrible seeing the confident, successful woman at the beginning of the novel turn so vulnerable, even broken, in court, and I wished, absolutely wished, that she would be granted custody. I love how Vincenzi pulled together so many minor plot threads from the rest of the book, and made them all relevant to the climactic court case.
The Decision is an absolute treat of a book. It’s a long novel, but the 700 pages zip by really quickly. Vincenzi whisks you away to another world — more exciting and glamourous, and yet more difficult for women — and it’s so much fun just to sit back and let yourself be entertained. I love how engaged I was in the lives of these characters, and how much I either cheered for them or wanted them to go down. The book also made me very, very grateful for all the feminists of the era, who fought hard so that I, and other women, can enjoy all these little freedoms we take for granted.