Summary and book reviews of The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino

The Parting Glass

by Gina Marie Guadagnino

The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino X
The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino
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  • Published:
    Mar 2019, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Book Summary

Devoted maid Mary Ballard's world is built on secrets, and it's about to be ripped apart at the seams, in this lush and evocative debut set in 19th century New York.

By day, Mary Ballard is lady's maid to Charlotte Walden, wealthy and accomplished belle of New York City high society. Mary loves Charlotte with an obsessive passion that goes beyond a servant's devotion, but Charlotte would never trust Mary again if she knew the truth about her devoted servant's past. Because Mary's fate is linked to that of her mistress, one of the most sought-after debutantes in New York, Mary's future seems secure - if she can keep her own secrets…

But on her nights off, Mary sheds her persona as prim and proper lady's maid to reveal her true self - Irish exile Maire O'Farren - and finds release from her frustration in New York's gritty underworld - in the arms of a prostitute and as drinking companion to a decidedly motley crew consisting of a barkeeper and members of a dangerous secret society.

Meanwhile, Charlotte has a secret of her own - she's having an affair with a stable groom, unaware that her lover is actually Mary's own brother. When the truth of both women's double lives begins to unravel, Mary is left to face the consequences. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother and loyalty to Charlotte, between society's respect and true freedom, Mary finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.

A captivating historical fiction of 19th century upstairs/downstairs New York City, The Parting Glass examines sexuality, race, and social class in ways that feel startlingly familiar and timely. A perfectly paced, romantically charged story of overlapping love triangles that builds to a white-knuckle climax, this is an irresistible debut that's impossible to put down.

The Parting Glass

In some families, there are secrets on which the welfare, and perhaps the very existence of the persons concerned may depend.

—The Duties of a Lady's Maid

WASHINGTON SQUARE, 1837

It was Thursday again, and once more I was courting misery with both arms open wide.

"Thank you, Ballard, that will do," Miss Charlotte Walden said, and, bobbing a curtsy, I showed myself quickly from the room. The heavy oak door shut solidly, with a soft click following as the lock was engaged. The Argand lamps threw but dim illumination along the heavy carpet lining the hall, casting flickering shadows amongst the birds and flowers woven there. I made my way along the muffled corridor to the door that led into the servants' stair. On the landing was the door to my own narrow chamber. I pressed myself to this barrier, one ear flat against the wood. Through the door, I could only just make out the muffled scrape of the window opening in the room beyond. It was all so faint, in the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does the opening line, "It was Thursday again, and once more I was courting misery with both arms wide open (1)" set up the tone and voice of the novel?
  2. Guadagnino starts each chapter with a quote from The Duties of a Lady's Maid. What function do these lessons serve while reading? Do you see the remnants of any of the lessons in today's society?
  3. One lesson from The Duties of a Lady's Maid is, "Desire nothing but what is within your reach; for if your desires are unreasonable, you may be certain of disappointments (28)." Another says, "If you wish to be happy, avoid all such tales of love and adventure, for they will only fill your fancy with vain images, and make you hopelessly wish for miraculous events that can never happen (93)." ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Guadagnino's careful plotting is very engaging, but marred slightly by a rather abrupt ending. Nevertheless, The Parting Glass provides intrigue and ardor against a vivid backdrop of 19th century New York, with a charismatic and memorable cast of characters.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Delectable....Guadagnino's story of the sumptuous world of the privileged and the precarious, difficult environs of the immigrant working poor is highlighted by vibrant characters and a well-paced plot, which will pull readers into the tangled tale.

Booklist
Set in nineteenth-century New York, Guadagnino's erotically charged debut novel is packed with intrigue, confessions, and betrayal...Exploring class mobility and identity, The Parting Glass is an impressive debut.

Library Journal
Well-researched historical details lend authenticity to Guadagnino's captivating work, right down to the diction of the dialog. The limited opportunities afforded to women and immigrants by society colors this tale of passion and lies, which will appeal especially to fans of Sarah Waters.

Author Blurb Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network
Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York in this darkly compelling debut...A gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp

Author Blurb Nicola Griffith, author of Hild and So Lucky
Read The Parting Glass for its rich tapestry of 1830s lower Manhattan, where the stately drawing rooms of wealthy WASPs on Washington Square are sustained by the cheap labour drawn from the tenements nearby. Or read it as a fascinating study of immigration and social class, race and ethnicity, religion and sexuality in early New York. Or as the tale of Maire O'Farrell and her twin brother Seanin, fresh off the boat, who help each other lie to get work in a wealthy household—until they both fall in love with the daughter of the house. Or read it as a tragedy of lies and a triumph of love, or a delicious subversion of the marriage plot. But read it

Author Blurb Lyndsay Faye, author of Jane Steele
Immaculately researched and gorgeously written, this book is noteworthy for its grasp of the agony caused by hiding cracks in the human heart. A thoughtful, lyrical, sensuous, moving tour-de-force.

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Beyond the Book

The 1857 Dead Rabbits Riot

Dead Rabbit RiotIn the historical novel The Parting Glass, narrator Mary Ballard's twin brother becomes involved with a notorious secret society/street gang in New York City called the Order. Mary's friend Liddie recalls meeting her brother during a night of rioting that seems to have been based on the Dead Rabbits riot, which took place July 4-5, 1857, so-named for one of the gangs that took part in the mayhem.

The Dead Rabbits was one of the most notorious Irish gangs in New York City in the mid-19th century. The unusual name is said to reference a gang meeting in which one member threw a dead rabbit into the center of the room, which some people present viewed as an inauspicious omen. Their gang symbol featured a dead rabbit on a pike. The Dead ...

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