Is it possible that two souls that are meant to be together, will continue to seek each other out in future generations? If you are a hopeless romantic like me, you will love the way this book explores such a possibility. A beautifully, sometimes purposely confusing (with the mystery not cleared up until the very end), hopeful and romantic tale of the lives of three generations of women (Olive, Lucy and Kate) will take you on such a journey. As we draw closer to Valentine’s Day, The Forgotten Room by co-authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig offers a richly complex story of love that reaches far into the next two generations.
Olive withholds the secrets of an unforgettable love throughout her life leaving both her daughter (Lucy) and granddaughter (Kate) searching for answers after her death. Explanations were never provided from the past in regard to a gilded age mansion Olive (accompanied by her little girl Lucy) strolled by to simply stare at and a delicate filigree chain, weighed down by a prodigious crimson (ruby) stone, handed down to daughter and then from her daughter to her granddaughter, each without knowing exactly why it was secretly maintained by her or it’s significance.
Olive and Harry meet and fall in love in 1892. A forbidden love match, common for the gilded age and beyond where “financial status” suproceeds matters of the heart. The novel is peppered with three eras that could have easily inspired the table decor and menu for my book club luncheon, starting with the elegance of the gilded age, to the art deco style of the 1920’s and finally the turbulent aftermath of World War II of the mid-1940’s.
As I tried to imagine a theme for my table, “the forgotten room” in many ways a character all its own, remained a common theme throughout the generations and is after all the title of the book (while not at all forgotten by its characters). The title of the book should have been something like “The Room Where Memories Remain”.
After some thought, I decided the starting place and era of this love story deserved to be the theme. Olive’s first impression of “the room”. . . . . .
“when she stepped through the doorway, she lost her breath. Olive turned in a circle, coated in moonlight from the long Palladian windows. The brick walls – they were like a secret garden. She gazed upward at the beautiful dome, a smaller version of the one at the top of the staircase, except this one was paned in clear glass, suspending her in the center of a velvet star-flecked Manhattan night. A beautiful and unexpected gift. “
As I brainstormed to put this book club meeting and menu together, I was also in the process of planning an upcoming wine club meeting with a theme of “Starry Winter’s Night”. With the idea of projecting stars on the ceiling and walls of my dining room, I remembered a small projector that plays soft music that my grandchildren had in their rooms (in a turtle form) when they were younger. This one purchased on Amazon, also projects (if desired) a beautiful half moon and cloud and can be changed to different colors. When I recalled the caption of Olive’s first impression of “the room” and how she described the velvet star-flecked Manhattan sky… I realized I could use it for this gathering as well.
It’s not 7 stories tall, but this table lantern was used to represent the Pratt Mansion.
With a budget in mind, creating inexpensive props and points of interest pushes me to be creative. The mini portrait of Olive was also a recurring part of the story. If I were a graphic designer I could probably execute my ideas with a more professional result, but since I am not, I have to use my own resources of amateur design. I found an image of a gold oval frame online and just snipped it, then pasted it onto a blank Word document page. From there I had to play with sizing the image, including printing it a couple of times to achieve the size I wanted.
I was able to fit four frames on a 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. Next I worked to line up the names of my guests into the center of the frame. I’m sure there was a better way to do this, but I printed a page of frames and then re-fed the paper back through the printer to add the names. Some are slightly off center as in my example. I created the backing of the frame with card stock templates I made and then thread some narrow ribbon (just like a real frame) from the front of the frame to the back folding stand. I also found one sheet of dark floral paper that reminded me of the time period that I glued to the back side to give a finished appearance and hide the taped ribbon. Finally I bought teardrop ruby rhinestones to hot glue to the front (to resemble Olive’s necklace.)
A description of the miniature portrait as described by Kate…
“The woman appeared to be nude, her long dark hair tumbling around her shoulders, her only accessory a filigree gold necklace about her slender, pale neck, a perfect large ruby dangling from the center.“
While the book did not provide a photo of Olive, I searched the internet for a portrait of a young, beautiful women with dark flowing hair (released from its hairpins) and bare shoulders attempting to get as close as I could to this imaginary character. I happened upon this glittered Christmas ornament frame over the holidays, with a slot for inserting a photo that perfectly displays the portrait with a gilded age elegance and added sparkle.
Those Pratt family dinners were unquestionably served in the ambiance of flickering candles, and the elegance of fine china, crystal and ornate silver. I placed my candelabra to one side of the table with soft cream lit candles to create a similar ambiance and hung the portrait to bask in the glow of candlelight.
With the help of a craft store filigree gold chain and one of the ruby rhinestones, I created an imagined version of Olive’s necklace and displayed in on this similar era bust of a young girl I purchased from an antique store several years ago.
“Olive lowered herself carefully onto the cushions, which were upholstered in silk and threadbare velvel and released a comfortable scent of dusty lavender as she sank among them.”
A red velvet table runner draped across the center of the table was used as the base of my table’s center. A set of old metal keys (similar to the opening page of the book), paint stained artist brushes and tubes of paint with an antique candle snuffer are randomly displayed over the cushion of velvet.
“Harry led her to the wall next to the small fireplace, where a pile of angry coals hissed heat into the room, and pointed to three square tiles above the mantel. Olive hadn’t noticed, and them before, and now she wondered why: They were beautiful, full of color, depicting intricate heraldic shields on either side and a central figure of Saint George bearing his crimson white-crossed flag.
He released her hand and worked the bricks free from the mortar in a single irregular shingle, revealing the cavity within. “You see? There’s a hollow here, as if the builder forgot to put in a few bricks. Well, he didn’t forget. I got to know the architect a little bit, when they were building this place, and he showed me. I guess he like to do that when he designed houses, to put in some little secret. So, if you need anything, if you want to leave me a message of any kind, just put it in here. I’ll find it, I promise.”
Harry revealed a secret hiding place in the wall with loose bricks where he and Olive could leave letters for one another (shown to him by Olive’s father). We can’t have a romantic table without love letters! I recreated the stained letters with a calligraphy inspired font from the two letters written out in the book and then brushed the pages with a mixture of instant espresso powder and water to create a strong coffee. After about 30 minutes I then finished the drying process with a hair blow dryer. Following some examples for following letters from the time period, I folded and sealed the letters with a wax stamp. Two are crumbled, aged and slightly torn at the edges and displayed open on the table and with a few others that are unopened and sealed.
A beautiful heart with thin wooden flower petals I purchased on sale at Hobby Lobby, added a beautiful shot of red and drama to the table for a story that is clearly a matter of the heart.
Narrow dark red velvet ribbon was used to cinch the napkins.
I also used a piece of the dark red velvet ribbon to cinc the excess chain (for the necklace) at the back of the bust. At a glance, it resembles the back of a corset.
With the table set and ready to greet my group and discuss this complex love story filled with surprises and mysteries that require solving all the way to the end, I will pause here. A little note taking is recommended to keep track of all of the twists and clues. I’ve actually created a timeline family tree for each of the main characters to help everyone confirm if they sorted out everything correctly.
My next post will provide the cocktail and luncheon menu for this meeting. So come back soon! Happy reading!