Another stellar review has come in for Penny Vincenzi's irresistable new novel Windfall: "In the mid-1930s, all of England --- especially the jet-setting upper class that brushes elbows with royalty on occasion --- is abuzz with rumors of the new young king, Edward VIII, and his scandalous relationship with the American divorcee, Wallis Warfield Simpson, a love affair that will create a constitutional crisis and ultimately result in Edward’s abdication of the throne.
This real-life historical drama lies in the background of Windfall, Penny Vincenzi’s latest book to be released in the United States (it was originally published in the United Kingdom in 1997). The royal crisis underscores several of the novel’s themes, most notably the transition between a “traditional” understanding of marriage and sexuality to one that more closely resembles our modern views. Vincenzi also explores the life-altering conflict between desire and duty and how it seems that a person can have one or the other, but never both.
Cassia Tallow, the complex heroine of Windfall, discovers her own conflict between duty and desire almost as soon as the novel opens when Cassia receives a large inheritance from her recently deceased godmother whom she had thought was penniless. She is now rich beyond her wildest dreams. At first, Cassia is drawn to the expected luxuries: a fancy sports car and chic clothes that she, as the mother of three young children and wife of a humble country doctor, could never have afforded before.
Soon, however, Cassia sets her sights somewhat higher as she realizes that this unexpected wealth might enable her to revive her own dreams of becoming a practicing physician, dreams that were thwarted when an unexpected pregnancy and reluctant marriage put an end to her promising medical school career. But her husband, Edward, who struggled to pass medical school, grows increasingly resentful of Cassia’s aspirations. He initiates a war of passive aggression that escalates when Cassia rents a house in London and when Edward sends their oldest son, only six years old, to boarding school.
Meanwhile, Cassia’s medical work near London has brought her back into the fashionable crowd with whom she associated in her younger, unmarried days. These include the second-rate actor Rupert Cameron, her oldest friend and first love, and the maddeningly stubborn and rakishly attractive Harry Moreton, who has long professed his alternating passion for and annoyance with Cassia. Fueled by her new financial independence, Cassia finds herself making questionable choices that could affect not only her friends but also her entire family. And, to complicate matters, Cassia soon starts to suspect that the inheritance from her godmother might not be quite what it seems, and it could even have a few strings attached.
Windfall starts by focusing quite exclusively on Cassia’s own story, beginning with her discovery of the inheritance and, through a series of flashbacks, introducing readers to the character’s history. As the novel does so, however, it also broadens gradually to encompass a dozen or more of Cassia’s friends and acquaintances, each of whom has his or her own story to be explored. Vincenzi manages to create the kind of broad, panoramic canvas she loves to paint, as marriages are threatened and destroyed, individuals come to the brink of despair or reinvent themselves in new and surprising ways, and the inevitable happy (but sometimes bittersweet) endings come into view.
Vincenzi excels at depicting the upper classes, at describing their elegant clothes and homes, their lavish parties, and also their petty squabbles. Here, though, she goes beyond mere idolatry of the rich, as she contrasts their internal dramas with the far more dire circumstances facing lower- and working-class women like the ones Cassia treats at her birth control clinics. She also explores conflicted and changing ideas of sexuality as they existed in the 1930s, depicting both characters who freely convey their era’s prejudices and those who are beginning to adopt more modern attitudes.
However, at the center of it all is Cassia, one of Vincenzi’s most complicated and compelling heroines. Despite her numerous ethically questionable choices, Cassia remains a genuinely sympathetic character, especially for modern women readers who will rejoice that the available choices for ambitious women have come so far from Cassia’s time. " - Norah Piehl, on Bookreporter.com