Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: The American Heiress

I didn’t intend on writing any book reviews on this blog, but after finishing The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin I knew I had to share it with anyone willing to take my recommendations.

Endorsements promote the book as required reading material “for those suffering from Downtown Abby withdrawal.”  Yes, that’s exactly what I am suffering from this summer, and The American Heiress is nothing if not an exquisitely detailed costume drama

Based on the “Dollar Princesses” of the Gilded Age, The American Heiress is the somewhat predictable story of the wealthy and beautiful Cora Cash who marries Ivo Maltravers, Duke of Wareham, in order to cement her family’s social status in America and bring much needed wear-with-all to the Maltravers estate.

On a side note, I can’t help but be a little jealous of Cora.  Last time I fell off a horse while on the hunt field all I got was a snide “have you been riding long, my dear” from a very Charlotte Beauchamp-like woman, not a besotted Duke.  Oh well.

Though there is nothing particularly earth-shattering about the storyline, Daisy Goodwin is a beautiful writer.  In the Acknowledgements section she says: “this book has taken me an age to finish.”  I like to think that’s because of the care and attention she put into her graceful descriptions.  I almost wished I could read the whole thing with a highlighter in hand.

I appreciated the use of shifting points of view in any given scene and am glad to see this literary technique making a comeback.  What satisfied me the most, though, was the book’s finale.  With no intention of spoiling the story I will simply say it was not a trite happy ending tied up in a perfect bow (I’m looking at you film version of The Buccaneers sending Nan merrily off into a South American sunset with lover Guy Thwaite).  The American Heiress ends in a way that feels true to life, if not a little emotionally messy.

Daisy Goodwin admits that she based the character of Cora on Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough and one of the most famous of the Dollar Princesses.  By the end of the book I could not help but think of a portrait I had recently seen of Consuelo, and the solace so clearly found in the bonds of love between mother and son.      

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