In brief: The story of a young Australian actress trying to make her way in 1920s London.
The good: Lovely read with lots of adventure.
The not-so-good: Reading the back cover, I expected the scandal to make up more of the plot.
Why I chose it: Have loved Pamela Hart’s other historical fiction novels. Thanks to Hachette for the copy.
Rating: 8 out of 10
A new Pamela Hart novel is always a cause for celebration – and a reason for sitting down and reading until my eyes droop. The Charleston Scandal marks a departure from her previous books in that it’s not set during wartime, but the 1920s. England is ready to party after World War I with glamour, sparkly dresses, a lot of drinking and some other vices. For Kit Linton, an Australian actress, it’s all rather fun until it’s not.
Kit has come from an upper-class Sydney family to try to make it on the stage. She’s landed a role in a new play opposite Canadian Zeke Gardiner and it looks like she’s set. She parties with Adele and Fred Astaire and Zeke lives with Noel Coward and his family. But one night she is papped (yes, it even happened in those days) dancing the scandalous Charleston in a group at a club. That group just happens to include the Prince of Wales. The palace isn’t happy and a decoy is suggested – a fake romance with Lord Henry Carleton. It was only meant to be for a short time, but Kit enjoys the luxury Henry and his set can offer, and Henry is falling for her. But that life is so different to her stage life, and Zeke who she feels a real connection to. When the play ends and Kit is out of work, she has to make some big decisions about her life, career and if she will follow her head or her heart.
Overall, The Charleston Scandal is very enjoyable. It captures the hedonistic essence of the 1920s so well – the dancing, drinking and gorgeous dresses. Kit is an interesting character who is easy to like, as she tussles between a boring life of comfort and making her own way in the world. Zeke gave a nice contrast, coming from a poor and broken family – demonstrating all that Kit didn’t fully appreciate that she had. Even Henry has his entertaining moments, showing that he does care for Kit in his own way. (Not to mention being a relic of the landed gentry with nothing to do era). I also enjoyed the real characters such as the Cowards and Astaires. (For shame, I did not even know Fred had a sister until this novel – it’s worth reading about Adele as her life was just as fascinating). I haven’t seen The Crown, but the Royals acting badly was fun and the response to the scandal sounds in line with what would happen during those times.
The story is a fun read, following Kit’s highs and lows, but also allowing for deeper exploration into serious topics. These include the underground LGBT clubs and the crime of being homosexual, alcoholism, class and the limitations placed on women. The issues don’t seem forced or put upon, but rather a natural part of the story. Sometimes I felt that Kit’s longings for comfort via money or the society she was used to were a little repetitive, but the fun of the parties and clubs more than made up for that. The seriousness when Kit’s play finished and she was forced into other work was also beautifully written, detailing the limitations on young working women of the time. Fans of A Letter From Italy will also be overjoyed as some characters make an appearance.
No need to get your dancing shoes on, The Charleston Scandal will carry you away to the 1920s.