My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Summary (adapted from Goodreads):
In late 1875 Louisa May Alcott spent a winter in New York City. Her journals give a rough sketch of the people she met, the salons she attended and a few outings that she enjoyed. She intended to stay “until I am tired of it,” but left abruptly in mid-January.
Filled with biographical references to Louisa’s family, New Yorkers of the time and Alcott’s literary works, Only Gossip Prospers intertwines the real people Louisa met, the actual events of New York City and a host of fictional characters who inhabit a world that Louisa herself would recognize. Written in a style reminiscent of Alcott’s juvenile fiction and short adventure stories, the book is part historical fiction, part love letter to the charm of 1870s New York and part biography of Louisa and her contemporaries.
For as much as I love reading, especially reading classic literature and well written literature, you’d think I’d be a bigger fan of “Little Women.” I have read it, but only once and I think I was probably too young because I found it boring. I did love the Winona Rider movie from the moment I saw it, and I have often thought I should read “Little Women” again. (I also love the movie of “The Inheritance,” another Louisa May Alcott novel. But I’ve never read that book and feel I should.)
What does all of that have to do with this book – “Only Gossip Prospers”? Well, it’s the reason this book gets 3 stars instead of 4 for me. It has nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with my experience. This book is beautifully written. The description and historical information is poetic and and scientific all at the same time. The characters are interesting, and their stories being presented as pieces in a bigger puzzle was intriguing; I wanted to know how it was all going to fit together and what the final takeaway would be with so much variety and almost randomness in happenings. The author does tie it all together believably and very satisfyingly. All the while painting a picture of Louisa May Alcott that is human and heroic. She was fascinating to me as a character even though the events and actions of the book were mostly mundane.
Unfortunately, because my personal interest in Louisa May Alcott and Little Women is low I didn’t have the love for this book that it deserves. There are definite nods to feminism as well, and I don’t consider myself a traditional feminist so that theme didn’t resonate with me like it would for many readers. I don’t know much about this period in history, particularly the history of New York, mostly because it hasn’t been of high interest. I certainly know more after reading “Only Gossip Prospers,” but my interest level hasn’t really increased. That’s all on me though. Just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, with the new perspective this book gave me on Louisa May Alcott and on the societal and historical importance of “Little Women,” I am very interested in reading Little Women again. I think I’m likely to enjoy it much more now that I’m more mature, but also because of the window “Only Gossip Prospers” gave me into how autobiographical “Little Women” is.
If you are already a Little Women fan, I imagine this is a book you don’t want to miss. With the genius of the writing I bet it would feel as inviting as coming home for the holidays. If you are not a Little Women fan, or maybe aren’t sure if you are, this book is informative, interesting, and worth reading so you can appreciate the easy and yet poetic prose. It may not have been a page turner for me, but it is impressive in its literary value.
Age Recommendation: This book is appropriate for all ages, but I think 16 and older will understand it best, and get the most out of the message. I think It takes some life experience with complex emotions, and some independent decision making to be able to understand the feelings and choices of characters in the book.
Appropriateness: I found nothing offensive. There is reference to drug addiction and sex, but the references are so innocent. Book club groups would enjoy discussing the many themes presented: similarities between Alcott’s life and her book, how feminism has progressed since her time, and how we can present our best selves to the world without losing our true selves, to name just a few.
Other Book Recommendations: Obviously Little Women and other books by Louisa May Alcott would be good choices if you like this one. I think you would also enjoy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, the Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wicker, or I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai.