Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Analyzing the Luxe, by Anna Godbersen

What techniques of writing craft did this author use in this young adult novel?

A quick summary: the Luxe is a soap opera set in 1899, Manhattan. Elizabeth is in love with the stable boy, but has to marry a rich socialite to save her family. Her best friend has a dangerous crush on Elizabeth's fiance, and the fiance in turn has a crush on Elizabeth's younger sister. And if that wasn't twisted enough, Elizabeth's maid is also in love with the same stable boy.

As you can imagine from these entanglements, there is a lot of drama in this novel. It starts with an obituary - and we find out very quickly that Elizabeth's funeral is being on held on the day she was supposed to get married. By the fourth page, we discover that the coffin is empty, because Elizabeth's body was never found.

Aha! Immediately you suspect that she is still alive. This is so obvious I won't even mention a spoiler warning. However, it is an intriguing hook. That, and the rich writing style that matches the period without being old-fashioned, were the two things that encouraged me to continue reading.

Nothing really stands out on the first page of this book, but because it was preceded by an obituary, I kept reading. On the second page, this paragraph was so vivid I stopped and read it twice to savor it:

They were Liz's peers, the young men she had danced quadrilles with at countless balls. They had disappeared to St Paul's and Exeter at some point and then returned with grown-up ideas and a fierce will to flirt. And here they were now, in black frock coats and mourning bands, looking grave for perhaps the first time ever.
Descriptions like the one above, along with sumptuous settings at balls and attention to both historical and fashionable detail, make this a good read even if my stomach did turn rather sour at the devious plotting. While the author successfully paints the woes of high society and its class distinctions, snobbery, and resulting suffocation, she also subtly hints that good morals are just as suffocating.

But forgive me, this is supposed to be an analysis of writing craft, not moral content.

An interesting technique: each chapter (which heralds a shift in point of view), is preceded by some sort of quote, personal note, or invitation, which leads directly into the chapter. For instance, chapter 1 begins with a formal invitation to a ball, and the scene that follows is at the ball. Chapter 2 begins with a short note "Cloakroom, one o'clock. Bring cigges. - DH" and we soon discover that the note was written by Elizabeth's impetuous younger sister and then surreptitiously passed to a young man at the ball.

Here's another fun chapter intro: "This is to certify that I, William Sackhouse Schoonmaker, do leave all my worldly possessions, as itemized below, including all holdings relating to business, real estate, and personal property, to ______________." Who could resist not diving into the chapter, hoping to find out who will inherit the fortune?

Here are a couple interesting examples of character building, from my two favorite characters. First, the selfish, ambitious Penelope, Liz's supposed best friend:

"Little Bo Peep. That's too perfect for Liz," Penelope Hayes said, as she said nearly everything, with a quarter ounce of venom.

Another example:

Penelope gave a careless shrug. If he wanted to praise Elizabeth Holland, whom she had long ago singled out as her principal rival and thus her only possible best friend, and who was now circling the polo-field-sized dance floor with that toad Percival Coddington, it was fine with her.

Three examples of Liz's younger sister, Diana:

"What makes you think there is any comparison between me and the girls of my class?" Dianna pronounced the last two words in disgust. The girls of her class were slaves to rules, going about life - if you could call it that- like bloodless mannequins. "I told you I was looking for an artist," she went on impatiently. "So if you're going to go on thinking conventionally and just like everybody else, I may as well leave."

Diana took a mental note of the fade on the upholstery so that she could give her nightly diary entry a touch of ambiance.

She did not sit still the way she was supposed to, the way her sister did. She gesticulated and laughed and pouted and generally made the dress she was sewn into and the room she was inhabiting look ridiculous and constraining.

(Note: overuse of -ly adverbs in this novel. Found a couple sentences that even had TWO ly's in them! - where was the editor??? This is stuff they all rant about!)

In summary, notable writing craft in this novel is the use of clever quotes, invitations, notes, and excerpts from newspaper articles and wills to precede each chapter and make you curious to read more.

Here are some other novels that I've analyzed for writing craft. Next I'll be working on the Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas (middle grade fantasy).

If you've read the Luxe, did anything about the writing stand out to you? Can you suggest another book with interesting examples of writing craft?


  1. Thanks for posting this excellent analysis! I read this book with some misgivings (having picked it up for its beautiful cover *ashamed*) and when I finished it, I had to shrug because it was exactly what I had expected. Nothing more, nothing less. It kept me entertained and I thought the author did a decent job transposing modern Gossip-Girlish themes to 1800's Manhattan.

  2. wow! best. breakdown. everrrrr

    luxe was a great book -- but i love your insight into the intricacies of the writing. i guess at the end of the day, some rules are meant to be broken. writing a good story, and writing a good story WELL, may even be two different things.

    great post!

  3. I'm so happy I found you! Following you now! I love the way you showed the character building. The book does a great job of "showing" rather than "telling".

  4. Love this!!!! I have to say I've never seen a review done like this before but I hope it continues, this is amazing. I've never wanted to run to a bookstore so quickly before! I am dying to know how this devious plot unfolds!!!

    I look forward to picking it up!

  5. Unfortunately, by the time Anna got to her forth book, it was obvious she had lost interest in the series. :(



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