Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Review: American Duchess by Karen Harper

It is hard for us, in this day and age, to reconcile ourselves to the idea of a forced marriage. Most of us choose to marry for love and even those people who I know who have had arranged marriages have had a more modern version where they were allowed to decline if the prospect was too horrible to contemplate. But it's really not that long ago that marriage was a business transaction and not a love match, especially in the upper classes, as Karen Harper shows in her latest historical fiction novel about Consuelo Vanderbilt, American Duchess.

In 1895, at only 18 and in love with another man, Consuelo is forced by her overbearing, social climbing mother into marriage with the ninth Duke of Marlborough, her money for his title and palace estate. One of the Gilded Age's "Dollar Brides," Consuelo was perhaps the most famous among the American heiresses who left America for England and the chance to marry into a cash strapped aristocracy. Trapped in a loveless marriage with a cold fish husband, Consuelo turned towards doing good for those less fortunate than she was, earning the sobriquet of Angel of Woodstock for her ministering in the village near Blenheim Palace. Her life continued to be glittering on the surface even as she stretched her philanthropic muscles and poured herself into her two beloved sons. Being the Duchess of Marlborough, especially with her financial means, brings her into contact with many of the famous, the glamorous, and the royal of her time although she regarded her life as like to being in a gilded cage. And it is only later in life that she finds the freedom and love that she searched for for so long.

The book is narrated in the first person by Consuelo herself and opens with the day of her wedding, the wedding of the century, before moving backwards two years to show just how she ended up on the verge of this unwanted marriage and then forwards into her life as Duchess of Marlborough and beyond. Early on in the story, Consuelo is immature, alternately defiant and compliant, while her mother is firmly dictatorial and her father is a complete milksop. Husband Sunny is unemotional and a hidebound traditionalist but not really as present in the novel as one might expect, and certainly not portrayed as horrible a person as our narrator asserts that he is. In fact, none of the characters is completely fleshed out and they feel a little one dimensional as a result. Even Consuelo as the narrator has no flaws nor does she share the little human details that would have made her character realistic and fully realized, making this read more as a superficial biography, removed from the subject, than as a personal account, which a first person narrative historical fiction should surely have mimicked. Consuelo's story has all the makings of a fascinating one, an activist, an heiress, and American Duchess whose life spanned both world wars and who found her own happiness later in life but this skims lightly across the surface of this complicated woman. The writing is simple and easy to read and although it is not a full portrait of Consuelo (oddly ending on a romance novel note of happily ever after and in the midst of WWII despite the fact that Consuelo lives another 20 odd years), it is a light and fast read perfect for those with a fascination with the English aristocracy, those who like to see how the other half lives, and historical fiction fans looking for an easy beach read.

For more information about Karen Harper and the book, check our her author website, follow her on Facebook, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts