By Sophie McManus
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015
The Somner family has seen brighter days. Cecilia, “CeCe” the matriarch, an heiress to a family fortune, has a degenerative disease and decamps to a rehab facility for experimental treatment, hoping to bring back her life as she once knew it. George, her son, dreams of having his opera, The Burning Papers, produced at any cost. And Iris, George’s wife, struggles to hold herself, and her marriage, together as George pursues his creative dream. Told in alternating voices, The Unfortunates tells the stories of these three characters over the course of one year.
This is sumptuous read. McManus has a beautiful use of language and the stories slowly unfold on the page, reminding me of novels from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. George is a tragic character, wealthy and in need of nothing material, yet restless and unsatisfied with life. CeCe is a demanding mother overly concerned with appearances and material items. Iris marries into the family, and their wealth, and is more comfortable with Victor, a man they hire as a personal trainer and dog walker, than she is with CeCe.
This is a book about family, wealth and ambition and what it means to come from a family of influence that has a name that is recognized and needs to be protected. It is also a story of denial and isolation and the extent to which we all live in our own bubbles. I enjoyed this book for its beautiful, meticulous, language and for the characters, who were relatable to me. The Unfortunates is a perfect summer read, to be slowly enjoyed on a hot summer afternoon. And the story culminates with some interesting twists and turns, which I will not reveal.
This book’s cover is my favorite of the year!