Synopses & Reviews
In turn-of-the-century London, an exemplary Victorian wife begins a noble-minded project: writing letters to a lonely local prisoner. What happens next in this brilliantly crafted novel of literary suspense will change Emma Smith's life forever and ignite a dark, erotic drama of suspicion, loss, and awakening.
In the year 1898, Emma makes a New Year's resolution: to become a better person. So, under the tutelage of her novelist husband, she begins an innocent correspondence with Chance Wood, a man serving his sentence for the murder of his wife. But from the beginning, in words that shock and intrigue her, Chance dares Emma to unveil her unspoken thoughts and desires. And when Chance receives a pardon, Emma is set dangerously free. She will use her freedom and Chance's to pursue the fantasies that have been swirling dizzily around her. Slowly, recklessly, Emma exchanges all that was familiar and safe for her new, dangerous double life. As the risks mount and a friend turns blackmailer, Emma cannot stop her fall. For once she has given in to her truest, basest desires, she cannot avoid the ones that come next.
"Baratz-Logsted (The Thin Pink Line; A Little Change of Face) breaks from her chick lit moorings for this entertaining novel set in Victorian England. On New Year's Eve, 1898, Emma Smith, the spoiled wife of novelist John Smith, resolves 'to be a better person.' John, who is researching a prison novel, suggests that Emma begin a correspondence with a prisoner to fulfill her resolution. The prisoner chosen for the project is Chance Wood, an enigmatic fellow serving a life sentence for murdering his wife. Emma, nave and vaguely unhappy, is intrigued and excited by the exchange of letters and soon develops a strong attraction to 'her prisoner.' She also begins to realize that she's tired of being a 'possession,' a revelation the author strains to make credible. When Chance is released from prison, he and Emma begin a torrid love affair and plot to kill John. Though the plan is executed without a hitch, Emma soon finds circumstances and Chance aren't as she expected. Fans of the 19th-century novel of manners will recognize Baratz-Logsted's characters and themes (though the sex is now graphic). If the plot is implausible and the characters unlovable, Baratz-Logsted still keeps readers guessing up to the end. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Complete with a few delicious plot twists and some unconvincing historical detail, this is very entertaining reading on a number of levels." Booklist
"Although the ending is somewhat predictable, the book has enough twists to surprise readers and is an intriguing examination of the struggle between appeasing human desire and acting morally correct." Library Journal
"Lauren Baratz-Logsted creates captivating characters and spins a cunning plot in Vertigo. I couldn't stop turning the pages of this fascinating novel." Margot Livesey, author of Banishing Verona
"Lauren Baratz-Logsted has tapped into the Victorian fascination with the social monster, and in Vertigo she concocts an ingenious chamber opera of a novel." Dave King, author of The Ha-Ha
Set in Victorian England, this novel of dark, erotic intrigue explores the power of obsession. Emma, wife of a respected novelist, begins a correspondence with a prisoner convicted of murder, and her innocent experiment leads to a dangerous web of lust and deceit.
About the Author
Lauren Baratz-Logsted was an independent bookseller for eleven years. She is the author of three novels, including her first, The Thin Pink Line, which launched Red Dress Ink's hardcover line in 2003. She lives in Danbury, Connecticut, with her husband and daughter.
Reading Group Guide
1. Could this novel have convincingly taken place in a contemporary setting? How would it change? How would it remain the same?
2. How might Chance, Emma, and John each define love? Are they truthful to themselves about how they feel concerning love? Through which of their actions do you draw your opinions and why?
3. Was Emma's desire to become a "better person" a sincere and altruistic resolution? In its inception could it have been sincere but also selfish?
4. Did you identify with any of the characters while reading Vertigo? Were you sympathetic to them?
5. Does Emma own her choices? When making decisions, does she act independently or unknowingly as a puppet? How much of the course of her life and her identity is a result of manipulation (by her father, husband, lover…)?
6. Discuss the role of identity in Vertigo. How do identities evolve or develop? How are they disguised or revealed? Is identity something that is self-created or does it exist externally? Are personality and an individual's character autonomous developments or the result of reflected perception?
7. Is Emma a victim? What role does she play in victimization? If she herself is not a victim, what is it about her character that makes her guilty of victimizing others?
8. Katherine, Emma's niece, runs away to live in poverty with a man whom she loves in order to escape the limitations placed on her by her family. Do you think that the social pressures placed on women during the Victorian era were unique?
9. Do you believe that Emma's childhood trauma was a justification for her actions later in life? Do you think she believed this was so?
10. Constance's husband deals with their marital problems by banishing her from their social circle. John largely ignores the problems in his marriage to Emma, but also punishes her through manipulation. What are the fundamental similarities and differences between Constance and Emma in their reactions to their husbands' domination?
11. Why do the other women in this novel seem so content with their lives despite their complaints and gossip? Do you think they really are?
12. What are the motivations behind Chance's late confession to Emma?
13. What is the basis of the relationship between Emmas father and John? Why doesnt Emmas father stand up for his daughter in court? What would you have done if you were in his shoes?
14. Do John's actions partially lead to his own downfall?
15. The last line of the novel, "After all, we each of us make our own chances," is obviously a play on words. What do you think: Do we make our own chances, or does chance make us?
16. The novel is open-ended. What do you imagine happens to Emma and Chance after the last chapter?
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
The picture of Victorian domestic perfection, Emma Smith is an ideal daughter, wife, and mother. However, gliding down marble halls to dinner parties eventually proves empty for Emma and one New Years Eve, in pursuit of becoming a “better” person, Emma resolves to have an affect on society. At her novelist husbands suggestion she begins to write to Chance Woods, a man incarcerated at the local prison for the murder of his wife.
What begins as an innocent correspondence takes a startling and darkly erotic turn as Chance becomes an obsession for Emma; an obsession which will have momentous repercussions on Emmas entire world.
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Lauren Baratz-Logsteds Vertigo. We hope they will enrich your experience of this seductive novel.