Forever Amber

Forever Amber - Kathleen Winsor Original review here:

5/5 stars

Why, oh why, didn't someone tell me about this book earlier in my life? I could have loved this book so many years ago. It feels like the poster child for "if you liked Gone with the Wind." And I can honestly say, having now read it, I'm not sure I understand what all this fuss is about it being a romance novel. It's certainly not a romance. There are romantic liaisons that Amber engages in throughout the book, lots and lots of them, but none of them are particularly romantic. I suppose it's not really a historical either, in the true sense of the word, because I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much if that's truly what it was. It's not a serious look at King Charles' Restoration era court. Though it is very well researched and vividly imagined.

What it is really is the story of a girl named Amber St. Clare, who is much like Scarlett O'Hara, from Gone with the Wind. Now, if you didn't like Gone with the Wind because of its' protagonist then this might be reason enough for you to steer clear of Forever Amber altogether. However, if you, like me, feel some kind of strange connection with or even, understanding of Scarlett, or maybe, some small admiration for who she was: a true survivor in an impossible time, then you will enjoy reading about Amber. There are no shortage of difficulties for Amber, first because she is daughter of a poor farmer, but she doesn't let that stop her. You probably won't like her, but maybe as you can with Scarlett, you will understand her a little, or as least sometimes learn to see the world through her eyes. That being said, with both Amber and Scarlett, you will probably want to throw the book across the room frequently. There was more than one when I wanted to shake Amber out of her sheer pigheadedness.

Both Scarlett and Amber are hung up on men who will never love them the way that they want. Men who even if they gave in to their demands would never make them happy, but neither of them have enough self-awareness to understand this about themselves. Perhaps the only difference is that Scarlett does eventual realize the error of her ways, even if it is too late. Amber, forever a child, ends the book in the same way she starts it. That's not to say that she doesn't grow throughout the book, she certainly does, but she's more swallow than Scarlett and more childlike in many ways. Always associating sex with love. Failing, throughout the book to realize what's she missing.

Winsor does a beautiful job painting the London and the Merry Monarch, Charles II. She also does a remarkable job walking the reader through some of the biggest events of the time: the Restoration of Charles to the throne, the Great Plague, the Dutch invasion, the Great Fire of London; the book goes through them all.

For me, the most striking part of the book, where Amber grows the most as a character, the book provides the most interesting in historical detail is the when the plague strikes London. Winsor keeps Amber right in the heart of the city, throughout the ordeal. I was riveted to the page. Indeed, I was riveted to the page throughout most of this nearly 1,000 page book. That's not something easily accomplished and certainly not by something published in 1944, and considered nearly pornographic at the time of publication. The book contains many references to sex, but it certainly isn't explicit. It's simply that Amber is promiscuous, but that's just who she is. Amber wouldn't be Amber if she didn't sleep around.

I enjoyed everything about this book and I'm putting it directly on my favorites shelf to savor again and again.