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Swan Song


Swan Song

"Swan song," according to the third definition in the American Heritage Dictionary, is "[a] final performance or accomplishment, especially one before retirement." I can think of no title that would be more appropriate for this, Elin Hilderbrand's last novel about Nantucket, before her planned retirement from writing. There is also the fact that one of the central characters, longtime Chief of Police Ed Kapenash, is retiring at the end of the summer during which the events of the book are set. There are many "swan songs" here. Finding them all, and feeling the sadness that a swan song engenders, is paradoxically an enjoyable experience.

There is much to like about SWAN SONG, the epitome of a beach read. Vicariously, I lounged on the warm sandy beaches on Nantucket Island, felt the salty ocean spray on my face by cruising around the harbor, ate delectable meals at idyllic restaurants overlooking the water, and visited the charming high-end shops that line the main street. And then there's the story, with characters featured in Hilderbrand’s earlier Nantucket novels. She imbues them with enough backstory that we know they are interesting. If you haven't read all of her previous books, you will want to go back and find out the details of each character and the stories they had participated in before.

"There is much to like about SWAN SONG, the epitome of a beach read.... This is Hilderbrand's 'swan song' in more ways than one, and for that reason, the ending of the book and the series is heartbreaking."

In SWAN SONG, we are introduced to a power couple who pay full asking price for a mansion that's been on the market for years. It's a beautiful house in a prime location --- on the coast with a private beach and harbor. But because of climate change and erosion, in 80 years or so it will be underwater. And it can’t be moved. But Bull and Leslee Richardson don't care; after all, it was featured on a magazine cover. They buy the place sight unseen, and Leslee is determined to make them the new "it" couple of Nantucket.

Leslee wants to join Nantucket's prestigious and very snooty Field and Oar Club. Founded in 1905, its membership includes Nantucket's oldest and most established families. As one member says, "You can't just buy your way in; you have to be accepted based on personal merit." To that end, she plans over-the-top parties and invites the cream of Nantucket to attend. Through Hilderbrand's lovely narrative, we are witnesses to these glittering, glamorous, grandiose, gaudy, gourmet --- and at times gauche --- gatherings. These events are described in detail, right down to some of their more lurid parts. Leslee is far from subtle in her efforts to entertain and impress Nantucket society.

The locals include Kapenash; his wife, Andrea; her best friends, Phoebe and Delilah; and their husbands. There's the local gossip, Blond Sharon, who finds that there are more important things in life than reporting tidbits about her neighbors. We meet Kapenash's daughter, Kacy, and her new friend, Coco, who came to Nantucket from the Virgin Islands to be the Richardsons’ personal concierge. Coco basically conned her way into the job (she has ulterior motives), but like all the characters except for the Richardsons, she's very likable and we’re rooting for her.

Right before his last day on the job, Kapenash and his family and close friends are enjoying a lovely dinner when word comes that the Richardson mansion has burned down while the Richardsons were entertaining on their yacht, and Coco is missing. She was on the yacht working during the party, but when it arrived back at the site of the burned-down mansion, she was nowhere to be found.

From there, the story seesaws back and forth from the present, end-of-the-summer catastrophe to the events that began as the summer started. We are exposed to the snobbery of the wealthy elite and those who belong to the country club. We see the goodness of many of the locals. And we learn that, surprisingly, there is much poverty and food insecurity even on a posh island like Nantucket. Most importantly, we come to like and respect those who live at, work at and love Nantucket Island, and we see why they are so enamored of this lovely place.

This is Hilderbrand's “swan song” in more ways than one, and for that reason, the ending of the book and the series is heartbreaking.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on June 14, 2024

Swan Song
by Elin Hilderbrand

  • Publication Date: June 11, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316258873
  • ISBN-13: 9780316258876