Anna Solomon’s The Book of V. is painted on a much larger canvas than the author’s previous novels, each of which focused primarily on one place and time period—1880s Dakota Territory in The Little Bride and 1920s Gloucester, Massachusetts, in Leaving Lucy Pear.
The novel opens in 2016 with Lily, a 40-something Brooklyn wife and mom who’s grappling with the woman she has, and hasn’t, become. The narration then drops back to early-1970s Washington, D.C., where Vivian, or Vee, the young wife of a power-hungry senator, is about to host a party. Just as quickly, the story drops all the way back to ancient Persia, where 17-year-old Esther (yes, the biblical Esther) is about to be handed off to a Persian king who has done away with his first queen, Vashti, and now plans to select a new bride from his kingdom’s population of beautiful young virgins.
Solomon keeps these three stories moving as Lily, Vee and Esther find themselves in precarious situations. Lily second-guesses her marriage and contemplates an affair while trying to care for her sick mom, who doesn’t approve of Lily’s ambivalent style of feminism. Vee is cast out of her political life, with no clear path forward, while Esther is suddenly the queen of Persia and also under house arrest. Although the characters and their stories differ markedly from one another, Solomon’s omniscient narration serves as a lovely, wry guide.
The Book of V. offers plenty of thoughtful interiority while spinning a fast-moving story. Lily’s meditations on feminism, motherhood, friendship and middle-class striving will resonate with many readers. The novel’s unexpected retelling of the Esther story is imaginative yet, in its own way, faithful to the original.
In her acknowledgments, Solomon credits inspiration for the structure of her new novel to Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which also follows three different women in three different time periods. As with The Hours, The Book of V. connects its three characters’ stories not only thematically but also narratively, with a surprising yet inevitable and satisfying conclusion.