Overlook Press was the first American publisher to introduce the
novels of Penny Vincenzi, a bestselling author in her native
England, to American audiences. Although U.S. readers have yet to
give Vincenzi the attention she deserves, her most recent novels
have garnered the attention of a major U.S. publisher, Doubleday.
Overlook Press, however, has continued its efforts to bring
Vincenzi's backlist to American readers, and their latest endeavor
is to release Vincenzi's debut novel (originally published in 1996)
to the United States for the first time.
At the start of THE DILEMMA, Francesca is a young and ambitious,
but still rather insecure, woman at the very beginning of her
career. In an act of bravado, she responds to a televised
"advertisement for a wife" delivered by business tycoon Bard
Channing. It takes several years of miscommunications, missed
opportunities and many missteps before she is finally able to take
up the charismatic Channing on his offer of marriage.
Despite the wealth, fame and luxury afforded her by becoming Mrs.
Isembard Channing, Francesca experiences difficulties adjusting to
her new life. She's passionately in love with her husband, of
course, but the ambitious Francesca has a hard time giving up her
own prominent career in advertising in order to be a full-time wife
and, soon, mother.
The fact that Bard categorically refuses to share anything about
his business with his new wife, let alone hear her advice on
professional matters, doesn't make things any easier. Nor do Bard's
four children from his two previous marriages, who view Francesca
with varying levels of tolerance, ridicule, bitterness and disdain.
The course of their early years of marriage is a rocky one, indeed,
but when Francesca's emotional insecurities collide with Bard's
growing secrecy, bad temper and business problems, can Francesca
and Bard's love survive the crisis on the horizon?
THE DILEMMA is Vincenzi's debut novel, and readers already familiar
with her subsequent fiction will notice how many elements of her
successful novelistic formula have their genesis here. The
quickly-shifting plotlines, the burgeoning cast of dozens of
characters whose disparate lives soon become entangled for better
or for worse, the oblique references to economic and political
issues --- all these hallmarks of Vincenzi's more recent novels can
be seen in THE DILEMMA as well.
Vincenzi's first novel, however, is not without its weaknesses.
Although she has long shown a facility for weaving together
numerous plot lines, most notably in her Spoils of Time
trilogy, it's clear that in THE DILEMMA Vincenzi had not yet fully
mastered this difficult technique. In addition, the main plotline,
which hinges on a series of complicated business and banking
maneuvers, is not as compelling as those in some of her more recent
Finally, in Francesca, Vincenzi has created a character who can at
times be more exasperating than fascinating, particularly for many
female readers, who may lack sympathy when Francesca expresses
thoughts like "She had tasted huge wealth and she knew very
well…it had brought her no real pleasure."
Nevertheless, despite its weaknesses, THE DILEMMA is still a hugely
entertaining and even captivating read. Once American fans discover
Vincenzi, they'll want to read everything she's written, and
reading her debut is the perfect way to trace how Vincenzi
skillfully developed the fiction-writing techniques that have
served her so well in her many bestselling novels to date.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 29, 2010