Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Book Review: Montauk by Nicola Harrison

Pages: 388
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: June 4, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin's
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Montauk, Long Island, 1938.  A simple town on the brink of a glamorous future.  A marriage drifting apart.  A life on the edge of what is and what could be... An epic and cinematic novel by debut author Nicola Harrison, Montauk captures the glamour and extravagance of a summer by the sea with the story of a woman torn between the life she chose and the life she desires.  Montauk, Long Island, 1938.   For three months, this humble fishing village will serve as the playground for New York City’s wealthy elite. Beatrice Bordeaux was looking forward to a summer of reigniting the passion between her and her husband, Harry. Instead, tasked with furthering his investment interest in Montauk as a resort destination, she learns she’ll be spending twelve weeks sequestered with the high society wives at The Montauk Manor—a two-hundred room seaside hotel—while Harry pursues other interests in the city.   College educated, but raised a modest country girl in Pennsylvania, Bea has never felt fully comfortable among these privileged women, whose days are devoted not to their children but to leisure activities and charities that seemingly benefit no one but themselves. She longs to be a mother herself, as well as a loving wife, but after five years of marriage she remains childless while Harry is increasingly remote and distracted. Despite lavish parties at the Manor and the Yacht Club, Bea is lost and lonely and befriends the manor’s laundress whose work ethic and family life stir memories of who she once was.   As she drifts further from the society women and their preoccupations and closer toward Montauk’s natural beauty and community spirit, Bea finds herself drawn to a man nothing like her husband –stoic, plain spoken and enigmatic. Inspiring a strength and courage she had almost forgotten, his presence forces her to face a haunting tragedy of her past and question her future.   Desperate to embrace moments of happiness, no matter how fleeting, she soon discovers that such moments may be all she has, when fates conspire to tear her world apart…"
Beatrice, although she grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, now lives a life of luxury along with her banker husband, Harry.  Harry wants her to spend her summer at Montauk Manor, where all the other well-to-do wives stay for the summer while their husbands toil away in the city.  Montauk, in 1938, is an up and coming sleepy fishing town that at least for the summer is filled with the city's finest, so the Manor ends up employing many locals.  While there, Beatrice finds herself gravitating to the wrong crowd as opposed to the other wealthy wives.  She finds herself especially drawn to Elizabeth, the Manor's laundress.  While spending time with Elizabeth, she meets the lighthouse keeper, Thomas.  Sparks fly and it leaves Beatrice wondering if perhaps she made the wrong choice in marrying Harry, who has essentially left her all summer and she comes to find that he is up to no good in the city. Well, you know what they say? While the cat is away, the mouse will play!  Harry wants Beatrice to focus on what he wants her to focus on this summer, so when she comes in contact with a Manhattan journalist who wants her to write an anonymous column about life in Montauk, she initially declines. As her summer goes on, she decides she might do it after all and highlight some of the ridiculous things the upper class partakes in while summering in Montauk.  Montauk by Nicola Harrison is a decent historical beach read and while I really enjoyed parts of it, such as the time period and the setting, a lot of the story ended up being just ok.

Beatrice, also known as Bea, is someone I really initially liked in Montauk.  I felt badly for her that she is trapped in such a horrible marriage, but summering in Montauk doesn't sound like a bad trade off, right? Wrong.  Bea is like a fish out of water in Montauk. She finds herself relating more to the "help" and the locals instead of mixing and mingling with the upper class like her husband wants her to do to help his business.  Harry at first seems like a good guy, but once you peel back the layers of their relationship you see inside is a rotting piece of fruit.  He ends up being a pretty toxic character and in turn a bit of a caricature at times.  Even though I wanted Bea to escape his clutches, I didn't necessarily agree with her interest in Thomas.  I mean she is upset her husband is having an affair in New York City, so should she stoop to his level and do the same thing? Or perhaps this is true love?  Is this risk worth losing it all?

The setting of Montauk in 1938 is my favorite aspect of the novel.  I loved the time period, the Manor, and the dynamic between the locals and the wealthy.  The crazy antics that they partake in, such as mailing dirty diapers home to be cleaned is just unbelievable.  Rich people problems, I suppose?  I also enjoyed how Bea started working for a Manhattan newspaper and anonymously exposing some of Montauk's secrets.  The events at the Manor, the dinner parties, the cocktails, the lighthouse, the quiet fishing village, and beaches were all well done and my favorite parts of Montauk.

While Montauk was entertaining enough, I do wish that Harrison would have explored the characters a bit more and fleshed out some of the plot points.  I felt like Bea and especially Harry became a bit derivative at times.  Oh, and that ending!! It was over the top depressing.

Nonetheless, if historical beach reads are your go-to summertime read, then give Montauk a try, especially if you like a story that examines the important question of whether it's worth it to risk everything for love or is money more important?


  1. Ugh, what potential this book had. I do love the setting, though. Hope your next read is better!

    1. The setting, for me, was the best part. I did enjoy the novel overall, but it didn't wow me like I was hoping. Thanks for visiting, Angela.

    2. I agree. Even though the time period was in the 1930's, I got really irritated by Beatrice's wimpy musings and strongly disliked the ending- such a disappointment!


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