The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
New Year’s Eve, London, a Georgian mansion. Outside, a gentle snowfall. Inside, masked revelers dancing at an 18th-century themed masquerade ball. When the clock chimes midnight, a mysterious masked man kisses our heroine Anna, and the fete becomes very interesting indeed.
This intoxicating novel was a scandalous sensation when it was published in 1964. Its depiction of slow, deliberate seduction — and its examination of ‘sex, death, and Mozart’ — is enthralling, challenging, and very satisfying.
The narrative swirls among the clandestine trysts of three romantic pairs: a devoted married couple in the throes of mature love, two teenagers exploring the first whispers of passion, and the stars of the show, Anna (dressed as Mozart’s Donna Anna) and a masked Don Giovanni.
As music fills the opulent ballroom, Anna and Don Giovanni trade barbs and sweet nothings, circling each other in a dance of flirtation, desire, and intellect. Their kiss at midnight, ‘not socially but on the lips, gently and erotically, then with a voluptuous fluttering, and at last with a violent and passionate exploration,’ is the beginning of a tantalizing seduction of mind and body.
Author Brigid Brophy weaves a spell of words, sparkly and bubbly as champagne, capturing the manufactured optimism and breathlessness of New Year’s Eve. There are lots of sexy bits — so many carefully placed beauty marks, heaving bosoms, flushed cheeks, and whispered conversations that tickle the ear and neck. But it’s provocative, not graphic, titillating without being tawdry. If you’re into intelligent people getting really turned on by clever, meaningful conversations with each other, this is the book for you.
It’s not all intellectual fireworks, however. There are charming moments of levity, mostly thanks to teenage Ruth who is ‘perhaps going to be beautiful’ and slinks in corners, observing the festivities, while making insightful, snarky notes in her diary so she’ll ‘have an exact record of how [she] felt at the time.’
There are also allusions to the opera Don Giovanni, meditations on art and aging, a cat with a point to make, and quirky characters in mile-high wigs and fussy shoes. It’s the stuff of which New Year’s Eve dreams are made.
And when morning arrives, as it must, the bright dawn shines an inescapable and, potentially, unflattering light on the revelers and the shocking end to a glittering, sparkling, swirling celebration.
Note: This enchanting book has been available only in second-hand shops until now; Faber & Faber has released a new edition in print, ebook, and audio. We loved the audiobook for Laura Kirman’s narration. She gives the dialogue a perfect blend of come-hither breathiness and step-back steel. But the language is so beautiful, we also followed along on the page. Choose your own adventure.
People began kissing, celebrating, or assuaging the stroke of the one midnight a year which changed everyone into Cinderella… The masked man in black costume began to kiss her, not socially but on the lips, gently and erotically, then with a voluptuous fluttering, and at last with a violent and passionate exploration. When he let her go, she remained facing him, staring deep into the eye-slits of his mask… She put her hand up to the back of her head to re-secure the tall Spanish comb and the brief drift of black lace it held there. She had sewn a dozen sequins to the black lace, and as her hand touched it she heard or felt a tiny spattering of them come tumbling down. — Brigid Brophy
This sexy literary novel (224 pages) was published in November of 2020 by Faber & Faber. The book takes you to a glamorous New Year's Eve party. Melissa read The Snow Ball and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
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