The season is summer. In 1950s New York, young Gabriel Gibbs is living with his older brother, Spencer, until Gabriel goes back to school. Gabriel has just been kicked out of a prestigious boarding school, and instead of being forced to live with his Aunt Grace (whom he cannot stand) is forced to move to New York to live with Spencer, who is ten years his senior. In other words, Gabriel is now living under Spencer’s care. What was supposed to be punishment becomes something else for Gabriel. The Season of Lillian Dawes is the story of one summer: a summer of cocktail parties and cigars, of growing up, and an obsession over a mystery woman named Lillian Dawes.
This book is about the changes that Gabriel goes through by entering the world of the sophisticated adult. It is a glimpse into the life of Gabriel Gibbs and how is mind works, as opposed to being just a novel with a linear plot or storyline. What makes this book so special is the intricate detail the author makes of every thought, every sentence, and every nuance. Filled with wit and innuendo, this novel has been compared to the likes of Edith Wharton and Scott Fitzgerald. It is certainly one of those books that one needs to take extra time to read and savor - not a book to be rushed through.
Gabriel in many ways is a naive teenager hanging out with his brother’s friends, drinking hard liquor and smoking cigars. He wants to be grown up, but his brother Spencer tries to keep Gabriel from getting out of control by acting as his guardian when he is around. But Spencer has his own life to live, and when Spencer is not around, Gabriel is doing his own thing.
Aunt Lavinia is the black sheep of the family, having lived in Paris for many years with a married lover. She is now living in New York, supposedly to be near family. Lavinia is a free spirit who always gets her way despite what the family says. Spencer and Lavinia get along famously, but Gabriel is still trying to impress her, feeling that he is not really good enough to be her friend. It takes him a while to feel comfortable with her, this woman who has lived and seen it all.
In the midst of all this, Gabriel learns about Lillian Dawes, who seems to be part of New York’s high society. He glimpses her in the society pages of newspapers and wants to know more about her. It becomes an obsession. Spencer also gets involved with Lillian, but Gabriel, naive and young as he is, doesn't quite get that there is something more to Spencer and Lillian's relationship. Gabriel feels Lillian is his and feels a bit of jealousy when he thinks Spencer is encroaching on his space.
While the central theme is about Gabriel and his life in New York, what really becomes the focus is the mystery behind Lillian, and the truth comes out by the end of the novel as to who she really is. The beauty of the book is the slow revelation of the true identity of Lillian Dawes through the eyes of young Gabriel. Some readers will find the book slow and maybe difficult to get through, but those who enjoy the beauty of Katherine Mosby’s writing will be rewarded. An excellent book, and highly recommended. This reviewer will most likely count The Season of Lillian Dawes as a top book for 2005.