Insights from the Library’s Book Discussion Group: The Secret Life of Violet Grant

The Secret Life of Violet Grant is the first novel in the Schuyler Sisters series and the third novel published by perennial best-selling author Beatriz Williams. Stanford educated and a self-professed history buff, Williams worked in the corporate world before devoting her life to writing. Williams’ novels generally fall into the genre of historical fiction with a bit of mystery and romance added to the mix. This is exactly what we find as we follow the parallel stories of Violet Grant in 1914 and her grandniece, Vivian Schuyler, in 1964.

It all starts, and ends, with a suitcase. The lost suitcase of Violet Grant, the secret great-aunt that Vivian Schuyler’s image-obsessed, presumably wealthy family tried to prune from their tree. It was bad enough that Aunt Violet sullied the Schuyler family name by running off to London at age 19 to pursue a career in physics, and even worse when her much older—older than her own father—professor-turned-husband was found shot to death in their Berlin apartment a few years later. Suspiciously, young Violet then disappeared into the roiling dawn of the Great War with her British Army officer lover.

In 1964, Vivian receives the aforementioned suitcase in the mail and sets out to solve the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance. Thus, the alternate narratives of Violet and Vivian unfold. Both women’s plot lines involve a love interest and both are young professionals trying to make their way in male-dominated fields, but their personalities are poles apart. Vivian is bold, impulsive, and effervescent; Violet is subdued, poised, and lucid. They are each other’s foil.

A foil is a literary device used to illuminate the characteristics of literary figures. While an antagonist can sometimes function as a foil, the two terms are not interchangeable and foils tend more generally to be a secondary character whose personality traits contrast with those of a main character. Both Violet and Vivian are main characters, but their respective dispositions define their contrasting natures, which really brings each character to life in her own right. Williams’ novels tend to be very character driven so other characters in the Secret Life of Violet Grant also function as foils: Violet and the Comtesse de Honore; Vivian and GoGo; Dr. Paul and Lionel; Lionel and Walter. Which of these sets of characters do you and your book club think are good examples of a foil? Consider picking up this novel for your next meeting to read, ponder, and discuss. The library has many of Williams’ other titles in several different formats including regular and large print, book on CD, eBook, Kindle, and eAudio books through our Libby app.

Interested in participating in our next Book Discussion Group? Visit our events calendar for dates and details.

Oranda Davis
Reference Librarian