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The Necklace

A Novel

About The Book

In this “glittering, Gatsby-esque” (Publishers Weekly) novel, two generations of Quincy women—a bewitching Jazz Age beauty and a young lawyer—are bound by a spectacular and mysterious Indian necklace.

Always the black sheep of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell is cautious when she’s summoned to the elegantly shabby family manor after her great-aunt Loulou’s death. A cold reception from the family grows chillier when they learn Loulou has left Nell a fantastically valuable heirloom: an ornate necklace from India that Nell finds stashed in a Crown Royal whiskey bag in the back of a dresser. As predatory relatives circle and art experts begin to question the necklace’s provenance, Nell turns to the only person she thinks she can trust—the attractive and ambitious estate lawyer who definitely is not part of the old-money crowd.

More than just a piece of jewelry, the necklace links Nell to a long-buried family secret involving Ambrose Quincy, who brought the necklace home from India in the 1920s as a dramatic gift for May, the woman he intended to marry. Upon his return, he discovered that May had married his brother Ethan, the “good” Quincy, devoted to their father. As a gesture of friendship, Ambrose gave May the necklace anyway.

Crisp as a gin martini, fresh as a twist of lime, The Necklace is the charming and intoxicating story “written with wit, compassion, and a meticulous attention to period and cultural detail” (Kirkus Reviews) of long-simmering family resentments and a young woman who inherits a secret much more valuable than a legendary necklace.

Excerpt

The Necklace • 1 •
The Orchestra

I’m a native Clevelander. I went east to school, as we do. And I married the loveliest man from Charleston, South Carolina, and convinced him to move back to Cleveland and start a family with me, as Clevelanders do. Nothing is more usual than Clevelanders of a certain ilk leaving, seeing the world, and then dragging a spouse back to settle down. My husband, Jim, calls himself in jest an import—used to vary the breeding stock.

And variety is needed here. I’ve known most of my Cleveland friends since we were infants, since crawling around together on faded Oriental carpets and cartwheeling in the grass at country club picnics. My parents knew their parents, and my parents’ parents knew their grandparents, and so it goes back to the very beginnings when Cleveland was considered the West, and nice families had to stick together. So imports are needed, as few things are less exciting than kissing someone you’ve known since kindergarten.

I tell you all this so that when I tell you that Eleanor Hart moved back to Cleveland without an import, you have a sense of the problem this presented.

I’ve known Eleanor since those days when we played while our mothers gossiped over coffee. I call her mother Aunt Hart, though technically we are no relation. Her father died when she was a girl.

It’s rumored that my great-grandmother once went on a date with Eleanor’s great-grandfather. They say he took her to a speakeasy for some prohibition gin, and great-grandmother never spoke to him again. This only goes to show that Harts are adventurous and my family a bit prudish, yet discreet—a family trait.

Anyway, Eleanor was older than I by a year or two. I always forgot her age, and this coupled with her ridiculous beauty made her seem impossibly glamorous to me. Yet even as a child, she was always friendly to me. She was like an admired older cousin, and I’d known her forever.

My mother told me Eleanor was coming back. Mother talks to Aunt Hart all the time, though Aunt Hart moved down to Florida with a man a few years back. The Harts are a very fine family, but as long as we’ve known them they’ve been strapped for cash. My mother says they’re lucky the women in their family are so charming, and I suppose that’s true.

So I was only a little surprised to see Eleanor at Severance Hall, seated in a family friend’s box for the orchestra’s opening night of the season. Next to her was William Selden.

Of course I’d known Selden since childhood. He’s a little younger than I; the most angelic boy you’ve ever seen, with a head of wild blond cherubic curls that had darkened only a bit as he’d aged and were now matched by a gruff five o’clock shadow and thick tortoiseshell glasses surrounding his hazel eyes. Those glasses were a stroke of genius. They seemed to say he was a man above caring what he looked like, and it is always most attractive when a man is beautiful enough not to care what he looks like. Now he was a professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, where his classes were packed almost exclusively with girls who had crushes on him. I’d heard rumors of liaisons with students but tended to doubt such stories. Good-looking men always have such whisperings in their wake, don’t they? Good-looking women too, now that I think about it. His specialty was the Romantic poets—a bit surprising, yes, that he’d be interested in those musty old rebels. You’d expect cutting-edge contemporary free verse. But I’ve since learned that maybe I haven’t always had the clearest view of Selden. Anyway, Romantics it was, and he’d been fishing around town for a tenure-track position for a number of years. He probably would have found one long ago had he not insisted on staying in Cleveland.

He and Ellie sat in the box across from ours. To my left, Julia Trenor and Diana Dorset hugged over the waist-high wall separating their families’ boxes. The Van Alstyne family’s box to my right was filled with people I didn’t recognize. The Van Alstynes had likely sold their tickets to opening night. Farther to the right old Jefferson Gryce’s nurse pushed his wheelchair into his family’s box. In all the boxes around me people rearranged themselves in the heavy velvet chairs so that they could sit closer to one another and hear the latest gossip along with their Mahler. Friday and Saturday nights you might find anyone up there. But Thursday nights the boxes belonged to the same family names that had been sitting there when the concert hall opened in 1931. The Saturday-night opening of the music season was the sole exception.

People were intent on greeting each other. I stood in the front of the box and leaned out, casting a small wave across the way to Ellie. I noted the floor seats were filled, but seats stood empty in the balconies. They hadn’t managed a sell-out, but the economy being what it was, I suppose that wasn’t unusual. I still felt the general buzz of opening night, heightened by Eleanor being in town, and I enjoyed my prime seat.

Ellie was used to being the most beautiful woman in the room wherever she went, but she carried it lightly. Her thick hair was the color of tobacco, subtly streaked with honey, and hung down her back like a royal mantle. The fretwork in Severance Hall is modeled, so it’s said, on the lace of John Severance’s wife’s wedding veil and the Deco gilt-work glowed on Eleanor’s hair like a mantilla. Looking at that hair, I could only think that the upkeep—in cut and color—must be expensive, though that is not the effect it had on men. Men, I felt sure, only wanted to get their hands into it, mess it, feel it, and see what it looked like on the pillow next to them first thing in the morning.

She wore a sleeveless black leather dress of chicly conservative cut that hugged her curves. I don’t need to tell you that no one wears a leather dress to the orchestra in Cleveland. She’d tied a wide white ribbon at the waist, and on the knot of the bow she’d pinned a medal awarded to a Hart in World War I by the French. She looked youthful and chic with an alluring edge of danger. I admired her, as I do anyone who dresses well.

The women all forgave her for outshining them—poor Eleanor had returned from Manhattan. Alone. Divorced. And, so rumors said, fresh from thirty days at Sierra Tucson for unspecified indulgences. Though if anyone dared ask my mother if Eleanor had been in rehab, mother insisted Ellie had collapsed from the stress of her divorce. Mother’s a bit old-fashioned about addiction and things.

I mean, how many sober ex-classmates and old friends do I have? A bunch. And they’ll gladly talk to you about it if you ask, even volunteer the fact if an overeager hostess is pushing booze on them. “No, thanks, I’m in recovery,” they’ll say. If it’s a young hostess, she’ll want to know where they went for detox. “Oh, I had a friend go there, too.” But if it’s someone in my mom’s generation, the hostess will turn white as a sheet, smile, nod, and get the hell out of there.

The men in the concert hall all simply enjoyed looking at Ellie.

One man in particular could not keep his eyes off her. He was so obvious that I wasn’t the only one who noticed. He sat in the box that the orchestra kept for wooing potential patrons, the box next to Ellie’s, and I had a clear view of him staring. The director of development sat next to him keeping up a patter in his ear. He looked to be about my age with a sharply cut suit, the whitest teeth I’d ever seen, and a head full of dark hair—attractive hair, quite glossy, with a heavy sheen of gel in it.

I didn’t think about the man again until halfway through the first piece when a cell phone rang during a particularly quiet moment of the performance. Every head in the boxes turned toward it, and I saw it belonged to the same man. The development director turned scarlet. The man reached coolly—I was impressed by his cool—into his jacket and silenced his phone.

“God,” mumbled my husband, leaning his shoulder into mine and whispering in my ear. “Typical.”

“You know him?” I whispered.

“That’s Randall Leforte, the lawyer.”

“I should know him?”

“The ambulance chaser. He’s sued the Cleveland Clinic for millions. He’s as rich as Steve Jobs or those Google guys or something now.”

I remembered seeing him on the cover of Cleveland magazine as our town’s most eligible bachelor; he was photographed leaning up against his Maserati. Charitable and philanthropic boards all over town were vying to get a piece of his money.

At intermission Eleanor slipped into our box, as I knew she would, hugged me, and hugged my husband, Jim.

“Thank God, you’re here. I thought you might be.” She beamed at us. She’d always liked Jim. Most everyone did. My husband’s background of boarding school, Duke, and investment bank on Wall Street made him enough like a good Cleveland son. Yet his southern accent and manners made him an antebellum exotic. There is nothing certain Clevelanders like more than a whiff of a tattered but glorious past hanging about a person. Luckily that particular southern trait rolled off Jim as languidly as his drawl.

William and Jim led us out of the box to the patrons’ dining room, talking about the Indians in the playoffs.

“So William Selden …,” I breathed behind their backs, fishing.

“You’ve known Selden as long as I have. He’s just a friend.”

“Just a friend?” I asked. “An awfully good-looking friend …”

“An awfully good-looking old friend,” Ellie said with a smile.

We walked into the dark paneled room behind the boxes where silver samovars of coffee and a bar awaited. I took two gingersnap cookies, their recipe unchanged since 1931, off a Sèvres tray. Ginger is good for nausea and in my condition I’d found a new sweet tooth I hadn’t had before. Eleanor eyed me as she drank black coffee.

“Eating for two,” I said.

“My mom told me. Congrats.” Her tone was flat with disinterest.

“Well, don’t jump up and down or anything,” I said, joking but feeling stung. Ellie, I knew, was not keen on children. But I thought at least she could muster some enthusiasm for me.

She smiled. “Oh, I’m happy for you. You know how I feel.” It was as if she’d said, “That dress looks great on you; I’d never be caught dead in the thing.”

It didn’t satisfy.

“You and Jim will make wonderful parents,” she said listlessly as she scanned the room.

I’d forgotten this part of Ellie in the years since I’d last seen her. She was self-concerned, always had been, in a way that could be annoyingly juvenile. Oddly enough it was also one of the things that made me feel comfortable around her. Ellie made no pretense about who she was or what she thought. Given the Cleveland world I navigated, anyone who was straightforward, even if it was straightforwardly self-centered, was refreshing. You always knew where you stood with her, which is much more than I can say for a good number of people on my contact list. “Tell me about the conductor,” she said.

I swallowed a large bite. “You know I’m a musical illiterate. But everyone says he’s wonderful. Lovely accent—Austrian or something. I heard him interviewed on the radio once—”

“No, no, you know what I mean,” she said in a lowered voice.

I must admit that I laughed in her face. Leave it to Eleanor to be searching out men at the orchestra. Most men in the boxes were married, upwards of sixty, or both. I wondered that she didn’t ask about Randall Leforte, given his obvious interest in her. In any case, she’d zeroed in on the man who’d been in front of her for the last hour, the conductor.

“Married,” I said. “Happily, I think. There’s a child and such.”

Eleanor shrugged and resumed scanning the room. “You know what I kept thinking as I sat there?” she asked. “I kept thinking that all these people, their job is to do something they love. Can you even imagine it? The dedication, the discipline, the practice—you couldn’t do it if you didn’t have passion. And that’s what they get to do with their lives. Something they have real passion for. The passionate life. I wish I had that.”

“Don’t we all,” I said.

“Or to have a skill like that. To be one of the best in the world at something.”

“You’re the best in the world at being fabulous,” I said. I meant it truly, and lightly, but it came out as condescending.

“When’s the last time you felt passion?” she asked a bit aggressively.

I’d touched a nerve. Her questioning the passion in my life was the old bias that escaped Clevelanders have against the Midwest. The assumption was that you couldn’t have passion in Cleveland. It raised my ire a bit, yes. And while I thought this a little provincial, I guess I knew what she was getting at as it related to me. My prospects at the big-five accounting firm where I’d worked before my marriage had never been my life’s passion. Recently, I’d started to feel my marriage and a coming child might help me in this area. Not in a Betty Crocker, Phyllis Schlafly type of way, but in the way that I now had someone I could help along in life, a marriage to invest in. This baby, I hoped, might add to that sense. People say nothing else is important once your child is born, and part of me was banking on this. In any case, I wanted to put Ellie at ease. She’d just returned, and it was the first time I’d seen her since her divorce. I pointed to my waist, just ever so slightly showing, and though I knew it was not what she meant I said, “Well, there was at least one night of passion.”

Eleanor relaxed and laughed. “It seems like no time has passed since last I saw you.”

“That’s how Cleveland is,” I said, smiling, glad the situation was defused.

“It’s good to be back. These last six months have been pretty hard.” She sipped her coffee.

It was then that Jim seemed to materialize at my arm with Randall Leforte in tow and introduced him to Ellie. Something in Jim’s posture made him seem pleased that he could introduce them. Whether he was proud of knowing Ellie or glad to be seen with one of the sharpest litigators in town, I didn’t know.

Leforte smiled wide and moved in close as he took Ellie’s hand. It was fascinating to watch—and I’d been watching since we were children—the pull she had over men. I thought he might bend over her hand and kiss it. He smelled like patchouli, a hippie-ish, slightly dirty smell that didn’t mesh at all with his polished exterior. He clasped her hand and released it, his eyes wandering up and down her body, as if he’d like to do so much more than shake her hand.

Ellie was, of course, aware of the effect she had on Leforte. But it didn’t seem to please her. It seemed to bore her. She was looking for Selden, who was across the room talking to a group of men, each of them old enough to be his father. I felt sure they were discussing the financial state of the orchestra, the need for younger patrons.

“Mahler’s my favorite,” Leforte said, moving in close to Ellie. “Though I prefer Titan.”

Ellie rocked back and forth on her feet, looking like she was ready to spring for an exit, and I couldn’t figure out why. Leforte was attractive and certainly some chitchat with him wouldn’t hurt.

“You mean his First Symphony?” she asked.

“Yes, I guess I do,” he said in a hearty tone as he shifted closer to her, almost turning his back to me, trying to ease me out of the conversation and gain some privacy until Betsy Dorset interrupted us all.

Betsy Dorset wore trim black pants, a black long-sleeved T-shirt, and a neon green fleece vest—the type bought at sporting goods stores. Pinned to the fleece was the immense Dorset diamond brooch from the turn of the century, valued—so I’d heard—at half a million dollars. With her kind smile, cropped silver hair, and sensible shoes, she was the very model of a new-millennium Cleveland dowager. Her son, Dan, and I were the same age and had been at school together.

She hugged Jim and me and then made a great fuss over Eleanor, whom she’d known as a baby. Clevelanders of a certain age love few things more than one of their own returning home, and Ellie had the satisfying air of the prodigal about her.

Just as Randall was quietly trying to slip away unnoticed, Betsy demanded an introduction, and Jim obliged.

“Oh, but I know you from your billboard,” Betsy said, shaking his hand.

“Billboard?” Eleanor blurted before she could censor herself.

“Mr. Leforte has a billboard just as you come into downtown on the Innerbelt,” Betsy said to Eleanor. “I must admit it doesn’t do you justice,” she said to Randall. She said it in a flirty, confidential tone, but I knew she’d meant it not at all nicely. She sat on the board of the Cleveland Clinic; I’m sure she’d been forced to deal with Leforte, his clients, and their demands for legal settlements. She knew exactly who he was. “It has your eight-hundred number on it,” she added brightly. “Doesn’t it, Mr. Leforte?”

The chimes rang, calling us back to our seats for the second half of the music. Leforte made a quick exit.

“That man,” Betsy said in a hushed voice as she hugged me goodbye. “Getting rich off hospitals and others’ misfortunes. It’s the height of poor taste.” And she wafted off in a cloud of Joy perfume.

“I’ll come see you next week,” Eleanor said as Selden took her arm to lead her back to the box.

“Come on Wednesday,” I said. “Stay for dinner if you like.” Jim clasped my hand and steered me back to the box with my family’s name painted in swirling gold script over the door. The box my family has occupied since the hall opened in 1931.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Necklace includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Claire McMillan. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Always the black sheep of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell is cautious when she’s summoned to the elegantly shabby family manor after her great-aunt Loulou’s death, where she learns that she’s been made the executor of the estate. An outsider in the eyes of the tight-knit Quincy clan, Nell’s cold reception from the family grows chillier when they learn that Loulou has left Nell a fantastically valuable heirloom: a stunningly ornate necklace from India. More than just a piece of jewelry, the necklace links Nell to a long-buried family secret. This engrossing novel interweaves a present-day family drama with an ill-fated Prohibition-era love triangle and delves into the secrets, passions, and tragedies of a uniquely American family.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. When we learn that Nell has inherited a necklace, we can’t help but immediately form an image of it in our minds. Do you recall how you initially pictured the necklace (before Nell discovers it and describes its ornate appearance in full)? How do descriptions of the Moon of Nizam compare with what you originally envisioned?

2. The novel alternates between two timelines: a present-day narrative and a storyline set in the Roaring Twenties. Which setting and/or plot did you enjoy more as a reader, and why?

3. What was your first impression of Nell? How did your feelings toward her change over the course of the novel?

4. Traveling through Europe and Asia on a “grand tour” was something of a tradition among wealthy young men in the early twentieth century. Do you relate to Ambrose’s desire for adventure abroad? How did you react to his decision to leave May behind?

5. Put yourself in May’s shoes. Given what we observe of social propriety in her upper-class world, would you have made the same choice to stay behind? Why or why not?

6. Does Ambrose’s social privilege and wealth affect your impression of his character? If so, in what way? How does he rail against the expectations of his class, and how does he succumb to them?

7. We learn that Ambrose perceives Ethan as his father’s “favorite son,” while he sees himself as the recipient of only his father’s disapproval. May sees things differently, though, saying: “He loves you because you do all the shocking things he won’t” (page 264). Which assessment do you think more accurately represents the Quincy family dynamic, or do you think there’s truth to both interpretations?

8. Revisit the story that Ambrose reports to have told the maharaja’s son in order to obtain the necklace (pages 163-166). Now that we know he in fact paid a substantial sum for the necklace instead, what do you think is the meaning of Ambrose’s story in the context of the novel? Why would May interpret the sad conclusion as a “happy ending”?

9. During a private horseback ride, May tells Ambrose that “Love is an action[.…] It’s not something preserved in glass” (page 210). Contemplate this profound statement in the context of the novel’s primary love triangle.

10. What was your reaction to Louis’s first proposal to Nell? Did you trust his motivations at this moment in the narrative? Why or why not?

11. By the novel’s end, the necklace no longer belongs to Nell, nor to any other Quincy, for that matter. In fact, Nell realizes that the necklace represents “a chance to right a wrong” (page 272). How do you feel about the ultimate fate of the necklace?

12. Contemplate the Virginia Woolf quote that opens the novel. In your mind, how does this quote reflect the major themes of the story?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Embrace a Roaring Twenties theme for your book club discussion. Immerse yourself in the novel’s Jazz Age atmosphere. Serve Prohibition-inspired cocktails. Look up the recipe for a sidecar, invented at the Ritz in Paris in 1922 and Nell’s choice of drink at the modern-day speakeasy with Louis. Other Jazz Age favorites include a gin rickey and the aptly named old fashioned. Not feeling up for mixology? Serve some bubbly instead.

2. Consider a follow-up book club discussion to compare and contrast F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with Claire McMillan’s depiction of the Jazz Age, or cap off the night by watching a film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Choose either Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 modern version starring Leonardo DiCaprio, or watch Robert Redford in the title role alongside Mia Farrow in the 1974 adaptation.

A Conversation with Claire McMillan

The Moon of Nizam is a fictional creation, but it’s inspired by a real piece of jewelry: the famed Patiala Necklace. How did you develop the specific design and ornate details of your invented necklace?

I became interested in Indian jewelry when I lived in New Delhi, India, for six months in 2001. Female adornment, whether bindis or kohl, whether laq bangles or diamonds, is an everyday part of life there for women of every economic background. I visited the gem collection at the National Museum and subsequently bought books on the history of jewelry and the different styles. The emphasis in India is usually on the artistic craftsmanship of a piece and not on the straight commodity value of the stones in the setting. The back of almost all jewelry is enameled with traditional meenakari that outwardly doesn’t show, but is meant to be a pleasure for the wearer to enjoy.

The maharajas often had significant gems in their collections combined with some of the best examples of jewelry artistry, often in the same piece. Some of the largest and finest stones in the world have come out of Indian mines, specifically the Golkonda diamond mine in Hyderabad. As such, Indian royalty has had their pick of both the best gems and the best craftsmen for literally centuries.

While living in Delhi, I traveled extensively through Rajasthan and toured some of the maharaja’s palaces, as a number of them are open to the public. Some are now hotels, often with an off-limit wing still inhabited by the royal family if the family has managed to hang on to the estate. Frequently on view in these palaces were large formal portraits of previous maharajas wearing their lavish jewels. Some of the jewels were on display, and some of the jewels had been sold, and some were just missing and no one knows where they are, even now. The mysteries of those missing stones started a fascination in me.

What drew you to the historical time period that you explore in this novel?

In 2006 my family moved into my husband’s family’s farm, which was built by his great-grandfather in 1921 as a country house for parties. It serves as inspiration for the Quincy farm, though my house is not as grand, large, or lavish as the one in the book. Because the house had been occupied by two generations of the same family, it had never really been cleaned out fully. When we moved in, we found all sorts of things from every different decade. One of the things we found was my husband’s great-grandmother’s scrapbook that she kept for the first few years she lived in the house. Looking through it felt like a direct glimpse back into the twenties. At their many parties they always played games, everything from sack races and egg-and-spoon races to baseball and horseback riding. The sepia photos of flappers in diaphanous drop-waist dresses, adults playing nursery games while drinking cocktails, and men in black woolen bathing suits intrigued me. The scrapbook initially drew me into the time period and provided inspiration for the book.

Why did you choose to tell the past narrative from Ambrose’s perspective, as opposed to delving into the psyche of our modern-day heroine’s mother, May?

My husband has little patience for stories about his ancestors, but I’ve found generally that in-laws, especially in-laws who are writers, have a higher tolerance for family lore. The journals of Amasa Stone Mather and books on the Mather family came to me courtesy of marrying into a family that is related to the Mathers.

Amasa Mather kept travel journals and wrote letters during a trip around the world in 1907, a grand tour where he shot hundreds of animals in Africa and Asia. He brought home three, which have hung in the front hall of my house ever since. I’m not a fan of taxidermy, but I’ve agreed not to exit them in the name of marital harmony.

Amasa’s journals and letters were privately bound and published by his father after Amasa’s early death in 1920 from influenza. Amasa was a family star and favorite, and they were all bereft when he died so young. After reading the journals, I was a little in love with him myself. I attended a lecture by a Mather family scholar who confessed that she, too, fell a little in love with Amasa as she did her research. He was such a compelling person that I had the idea for my hero, and I never really considered writing the book from May’s perspective.

The Ambrose of the book is an intimate creation in comparison to the real Amasa. In writing Ambrose I could make up his internal life and motivations and create his actions in service to my plot in ways that I could never know or do with the real Amasa.

You practiced law until 2003; how did your own experiences as a lawyer shape and/or inform Nell’s character? Why did you decide to immerse your heroine in this profession?

Nell needed a sturdy leg to stand on when facing the Quincys. She was starting out at a disadvantage by being the black sheep, so I wanted something to balance that. Making her a lawyer bolstered her and helped drive a few of the plot points in the book. I practiced complex corporate litigation for six years and that gave me a hazy enough knowledge of both estate law and provenance law to know how much I didn’t know when writing this book. I researched and tracked down experts about certain legal plot points in the book, including interviewing an internationally recognized provenance lawyer as well as the head curator of a major museum.

You cite or make reference to several literary giants in the early pages of your novel, from Virginia Woolf to Ralph Waldo Emerson. From which literary classics (if any) did you draw influence for this novel?

A Room of One’s Own is a huge solace to me and continually bucks me up and gives me permission to be a woman writing. Of course I have to mention The Great Gatsby, one of my very favorite books and the quintessential Jazz Age novel. I also drew inspiration from Ian McEwan’s modern masterpiece Atonement, which helped me think about the way stories in a family can be distorted by individual perspective and differing agendas. And I greatly admire Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch for the way she illuminates how objects become important to an individual and how they gain and change in meaning as they travel along with a life.

Who is your favorite writer?

May I name a few? Daphne Du Maurier, Roxane Gay, Andrea Lee, Zadie Smith, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Meg Wolitzer, (the other) Elizabeth Taylor, E. M. Forster, William Maxwell, and of course Edith Wharton, whose The House of Mirth inspired my first book, Gilded Age. There are many more. My sister once said that going to a bookstore with me is like going to a grocery store with anyone else. I always leave with a haul, and I need books for different moods—for breakfast and for lunch and for dinner. Books provide a different but no less essential kind of sustenance.

Your “works cited” page points to substantial academic research. Describe your research process, and how you came upon so many rich primary sources. How much time do you dedicate to research for your novels?

As you can maybe tell from the above answers, I didn’t set out specifically to research this novel. The book grew out of my organic interests and experiences. I was doing the research in the years leading up to the writing, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

That said, news stories about jewel heists or missing works of art always catch my eye. It’s revelatory to think that in this world of global connectedness, priceless art and antiquities can go totally missing. Additionally, as a former lawyer, whenever I see a story about an object being repatriated I want to understand the exact legal and diplomatic mechanics of how that works. When I started writing the book, I delved more deeply into the legal arguments surrounding repatriation.

From there, I began writing. To move a story along, whether set in the present or the past, character is the driver. “Character is plot and plot is character,” wrote E. M. Forster. It’s a tautology, but true, in that it expresses how closely the two are joined. I was writing trying to bring my characters to life. When I was done with the initial draft, I went back and researched to verify things and to make the context realistic. Actual research in the traditional sense didn’t drag as I was looking for specific answers. The long part was the years leading up to the writing.

Can you give us a sneak preview of your next book?

I’m currently working on another novel, part of which will be set in France during the reign of Louis XVI before the revolution. Again, this topic is the product of long fascination with this time in history both in the US and in France, with Paris in general and Versailles specifically, and with many of the famous women at court such as Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Vigée Le Brun, and Rose Bertin, to name a few.

About The Author

Photograph by Molly Nook

Claire McMillan is the author of Gilded Age and The Necklace. She is the 2017-18 Cuyahoga County Writer-in- Residence and currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Lenox, Massachusetts. She practiced law until 2003 and then received her MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. She grew up in Pasadena, California and now lives on her husband’s family farm outside of Cleveland, Ohio with their two children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (August 14, 2018)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501165054

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Raves and Reviews

“Claire McMillan's The Necklace has everything I love in story: a rich family drama, an enthralling mystery, exotic settings and gorgeous historical detail. McMillan writes in assured and often witty prose, and her characters came to life on the very first page. An enchanting, intoxicating book."

– Cristina Alger, author of The Darlings and This Was Not the Plan

“At the center of this passionate novel of inheritance and betrayal lies the titular necklace—with mysterious origins, a tragic past, and an uncertain future. Deftly spanning the globe and a century, McMillan's sharp writing explores whether it is possible to undo our wrongs across generations—or if we are doomed to repeat ourselves.”

– Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet and June

"The Necklace is a delicious, delicious adventure."  

 

– Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One is Here Except All of Us

"With an expansive cast of vivid characters, McMillan weaves a complex and compelling narrative that balances intensity and levity.  Written with wit, compassion, and a meticulous attention to period and cultural detail."

– Kirkus Reviews

"Glittering, Gatsby-esque...an emotionally resonant, captivating tale of love, loss, and family secrets that culminates in a satisfying finale."

– Publishers Weekly

"Charming...the historical narrative shines...and the modern setting crackles with wit, as Nell outmaneuvers her kin with ease and maybe finds true love herself. Kate Morton fans will enjoy."

– Library Journal

"Some will make immediate comparisons to The Great Gatsby and The Nest, while others will call this a “beach read” or “pure escapism.” McMillan’s fast-paced, cross-generational mystery/saga is highly compelling....McMillan did her research well, and her finely tuned portraits of the era and the characters captivate as she builds her tale to a satisfying conclusion."

– RT Book Reviews

"Imagine what it would be like for Tom and Daisy Buchanan's grandchildren to deal with the messes their grandparents made 80 years ago....Absorbing."

– BookPage

"Claire McMillan's brilliantly evoked novel has the glamour of The Great Gatsby, the intrigue of Bleak House and the stolen passion of The Age of Innocence.  This elegant, clever, irresistibly sexy book is destined to become a classic. The Necklace sparkles brighter than a Cartier showroom."

– Koren Zailckas

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