I had no idea what to expect from A Beauty. Before this book, I had never heard of Connie Gault. But, when I read the premise, it sounded like something I would like, so I went with my instincts. And, I am happy that I did.
A Beauty takes us to the dry, dusty prairies of the 1930s. Elena is alone; her mother died when she was very young, and her father has just left her without any hint of where he has gone. She can only assume he is not coming back. He has left her with nothing, except for the gossip of the neighbours.
Everyone is wondering where Mr. Huhtala has gone, and whether or not he is coming back. Most of them believe that the best course of action for Elena is to marry – that’ll take care of things. So, when Elena finds herself at the town dance, dancing with a charming stranger, and he asks her if he can take her home, she goes with him. And, she doesn’t come back.
What must you be thinking to just take off with a strange man in the 1930s, a time when something like that would be quite a scandal? And, at any time, it would be dangerous. Maybe she simply felt like she had nothing left to lose; she wanted a new beginning, maybe to find herself.
Elena and Bill travel from town to town in his Lincoln roadster, visiting restaurants and hotels along the way. Elena seems to be enjoying new experiences and the feeling of freedom, although we never really know what she is thinking. Bill certainly doesn’t know what to make of her, but is happy to be with her all the same. When events suddenly change again, one thing is for sure – Elena has proven to be full of surprises.
Even though I originally requested this book because of the promise of a road trip, the reason I ended up liking it so much was because of the characters; such wonderful, interesting characters. At each town along the way, we get to know a new set of them before Elena and Bill even arrive. In fact, I would argue that we get to know some of these people better than we ever know Elena.
The characters are what charmed me, and drew me in. There are nosey neighbours, gossipy girls, secret lovers, run-down hotel owners, a Chinese man with a keen eye for human nature, a highly respected father-son team who own the general store, and 10-year-old Ruth. Ruth becomes a big part of the book; the one who ties everyone else together.
Elena is a mystery. She’s a mystery to the characters in the book, as well as to the readers. She’s the person who attracts the attention of everyone, but no one knows why. Without meaning to, she has an effect on people. In this way, she is the center of the book, with the other characters revolving around her.
It’s amusing watching people enjoy themselves. To stand back, watching them. Those first few days that summer, when Elena Huhtala was in her heyday, the people of Gilroy looked different from the way they’d looked before. The women looked as if they’d pressed their cotton dresses that very morning, and the men looked as if they’d just polished their shoes… All up and down that wide street, on the post office steps, at the garage door, down at the corner in the shade of the hotel, people were out chatting with their neighbours. They joked, they laughed out loud, tossing their heads back. In a manner previously unknown on the streets of Gilroy, they flirted with one another.
It is through Ruth that we get insights on what is going on in town, and how Elena’s presence is causing a stir in the community. Elena has a big impact on Ruth for such a short visit; one that will last the rest of Ruth’s life.
… the idea came to me that they’d invented her, or they’d found her somewhere and placed her on their bench, and now they were watching to see how we’d all take it. I suppose that was because she was so foreign, so different from anyone who’d ever stepped into my world, it seemed she had to be a creation rather than a person who’d grown up higgledy-piggledy like the rest of us.
This paragraph from the book jacket sums up the themes in the book nicely.
… A Beauty is at once poignant and razor-sharp, moving and mysterious, as it explores the meaning of home and belonging, the nature of forgiveness, and the ways of coming to love.
Because of the myriad of characters in this book, it is able to explore these themes in more than one way, with more than one character.
One thing this book made me think about is how much some of us are haunted by the past; some more than others. And, what I really want to know is more about Elena. Why did she do the things she did, and how did she feel about it all? And, what would her life have been like if she hadn’t made her seemingly sudden and bold decisions? What was her life like having made them? I’m not sure if we are supposed to know any of these answers – I think we are meant to be left wondering abut her and the dust she left behind.
We are given these small clues:
She’d seen what happened to people who dwelt on the past. They’d stranded themselves between whatever had happened and whatever might have been. They tied themselves to people and places they should have long since left. She’d always refused to be one of them.
And how useless it is to be sorry, she thought, how utterly, unforgivably useless.
Connie Gault is also the author of two short story collections, and the novel Euphoria, winner of the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction. I’d be happy to read another book by Connie Gault!
*Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
20 thoughts on “A Beauty by Connie Gault”
I have this one on the pile at home – might be time to move it up in the rotation. Your review has further intrigued me!
I really liked it, but it is definitely a character-driven novel, so just keep that in mind. I also loved the setting of 1930s prairie – that was a little different for me. I would definitely like to read her first book now that I know about it.
A few people on Goodreads didn’t like that Ruth narrated some of the novel, but that didn’t bother me. I hope you like it!
Was just curious. Since you are definitely a reader who continues to go through books at a pace that makes a lot of us envious, what are some common things you find in books you really like?. Would love to see a post on this.
Ooh… that’s a good question. I will work on it for you. 🙂
I like your review and will give this one a try.
Thanks, Michelle. I hope you like it!
Naomi, do I have your permission to share your blog/review with my book club?
Go right ahead! I’m glad you’re enjoying it!
I’ll have to try this one!
If you do, maybe you can offer up more insight on some of my questions about Elena!
I didn’t realize she was the author of Euphoria! I actually haven’t read it but I have heard a lot about it. This one sounds intriguing too. The subject of being haunted by one’s past is something I’m quite interested in.
You might be thinking of the Euphoria that came out recently by Lily King – that one was good, too!
The best thing about A Beauty was definitely the characters, but I was left with a haunting feeling about the past, and how it effects some people more than others, and how one person or event has the ability to change the course of someone else’s life, whether they know it or not, or care about it or not. It left me with a few questions, in a good way!
I had heard of this book and wanted to read it because of the setting. After reading your review, I definitely still want to read it – I want to find out more about the characters you describe!
They really were fun to read about, and the amount of humour in the story was a pleasant surprise!
Hmmm, I have my suspicions about what happens! Now I will have to find out.
Let me know if you were right!
what you have to say about this one reminds me of Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault, perhaps just the prairie connection but also the idea that the story is so strongly character-driven. I’m looking forward to tit, but I’m still hanging out in backlist territory for awhile yet, so I doubly enjoyed your post!
Oh, yes, I loved Good To A Fault for the characters, as well. If you liked that one, then hopefully you will also like this one. Completely different story, though. Have you read Connie Gault’s Euphoria, or Endicott’s The Little Shadows? I would like to give them both a try.
I haven’t read anything at all by Connie Gault, and don’t have backlist by her on my shelves a-waiting either, but yes, I have read The Little Shadows. It’s one that requires a little time (as did Good to a Fault, in its way, so you’ll know what I mean): beautifully done and the “feel” of it has stayed with me ever since. IIRC there is a terrific web site which I discovered long after finishing, which I’d wished I’d known about sooner as an accompaniment to my reading. I think you’ll enjoy it a great deal!
Thanks for your thoughts on The Little Shadows – I haven’t heard as much about it as Good To A Fault, so I’ve been hesitant to pick it up. On the other hand, I do like reading books by the same author, so I can compare them (not necessarily on my blog, but just for myself).