Marking Pride month #pridenotprejudice, this is a review of a novel about Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with the journalist Lorena Hickok. No-one’s entirely sure whether they were lovers or just very good friends, but some of what’s written in Eleanor’s letters strongly suggest the former*. They were both fascinating characters, Lorena as someone who rose from a very poor background to become a groundbreaking journalist, one of the first female sports reporters and also working on some of the major news stories of the day, and Eleanor as someone who was really ahead of her time in terms of her views on equality. Also, given that history is full of dutiful political wives who turned a blind eye whilst their husbands played away, I rather like the idea of Eleanor doing her own thing just as FDR did his.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really love this book, told in the first person by Lorena. It was too short for me to get into it properly, and it jumped about between 1945 and various other points in Lorena’s life, so it never really flowed. Also, the author’s admitted that some bits of it were completely her own invention, notably a section in which Lorena ran off with a circus (seriously). She’s also invented a gay cousin of Eleanor’s, called Parker Fiske, who goes around using rude words in Yiddish. Why would an upper-class WASP use rude words in Yiddish, and why invent storylines and characters when writing a book which was supposed to be about real people? And, whilst some of the sarcastic observations about the rich and famous are amusing, others just seem shoehorned in to reflect the author’s interests, rather than Lorena’s.
All in all, it was OK, but I didn’t really get why it attracted so many rave reviews. Books that jump about in time so much never seem very coherent to me. And making up storylines is fair enough if you’re writing about a medieval character for whom there are no sources for certain times of their life, but not for someone whose life story is known – and showing her going off to join the circus, like a Blyton or Streatfeild character, was just very odd indeed.
* “Hick darling, Oh! how good it was to hear your voice, it was so inadequate to try & tell you what it meant, Jimmy was near & I couldn’t say ‘je t’aime et je t’adore’ as I longed to do but always remember I am saying it & that I go to sleep thinking of you & repeating our little saying.”
“Dearest, I miss you & wish you were here I want to put my arms around you & feel yours around me. More love than I can express in a letter is flying on waves of thought to you.”
This was a relationship between two very big personalities, and a book about them could have been brilliant. This one just wasn’t, though.