Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Bolter” as Want to Read:
The Bolter
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Bolter

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  3,081 Ratings  ·  487 Reviews
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
An O, The Oprah Magazine #1 Terrific Read

In an age of bolters—women who broke the rules and fled their marriages—Idina Sackville was the most celebrated of them all. Her relentless affairs, wild sex parties, and brazen flaunting of convention shocked high society and inspired countless writers and artists, from Nancy Mitford
Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 4th 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2008)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Bolter, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Bolter

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jul 13, 2009 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is another case of a memoir being different from its portrayal in a review. I expected a book about a high society woman in the early-to-mid part of the 20th century who desperately sought pleasure, no matter the number of husbands or children she left behind. And while she married and divorced five times and had a few kids thrown in, she seemed more the boltee than the bolter. She almost always was the one left behind, or she was forced to leave due to her husband's behavior. Despite the d ...more
May 03, 2012 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started this yesterday, and once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. Weirdly enough, Osborne's writing wasn't what kept me glued, since IMO it wasn't a very strong and some of the chapters were boring and unfocused. That being said, the story of her great-grandmother Idina's life was like passing a wreck on the side of the road -- you know you shouldn't gawp, but you can't look away from the damage.

For all her wealth and priviledge, Idina lived what to me was an empty, wasted life. She devo
Jan 22, 2010 Nancy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
How can a biography of such a flamboyant figure be as colourless as this book? I was eager to read about the notorious "Bolter" who was fictionalized in Nancy Mitford's novels, but this biography somehow emerged as nothing more than a laundry list of marriages, affairs and transgressions.

The author was not lacking in sympathy for her subject, but the vibrant society and carefree (or were they careless?) adventures of the Edwardian jet-set never really came to life for me. I kind of trudged throu
Sep 10, 2009 Angie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, biography
If you enjoy reading about post-WWI Europe and the "lost" generation, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. If you are looking for an example of a psychologically astute biography, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. Even if you have only just "seen the movie"--"White Heat" or "Out of Africa"--YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. I can't think of any member of the goodreads intelligentsia who would not ENJOY THIS BOOK.
Nov 30, 2009 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Biography of Idina Sackville, the woman who personified the wild Twenties and who gave rise to so many fictional scandalous women (Osborne is Idina's great-granddaughter)
Mar 19, 2012 Palmyrah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My interest in the white colony that sprang up in the Kenyan highlands between the wars was first triggered by reading Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, and grew stronger after I discovered, many years later, the photography of a later resident of the locale, Peter Beard. However, it wasn't till I read about the hijinks in Happy Valley as recounted in Felipe Fernández-Armesto's Millennium that I grew truly fascinated with the place. It was a purely literary fascination, but none the weaker for that ...more
Melisende d'Outremer
Interesting story of a woman who was obviously ahead of the time she lived in. A woman - who rightly or wrongly - acted according to her own free will and refused to be constrained by the mores of the time. Notorious or notable - or both.

Update: I have just finished this book for the second time. I am still held in the grip of this fascinating woman's personality and character. Even the second time round I am still feeling some empathy with Idina, despite the heartbreaking choices that she made
Aug 08, 2009 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jamie by: Vogue magazine, of all things
Shelves: just-for-fun, adult
This was disappointing, especially considering that a biography of a smart woman who makes bad choices in men is my very favorite kind of book.

Mostly it ended up reading a little too much like a laundry list of affairs and scandal, but without much insight into why. The author, her great-granddaughter attempts to make a case that she was just "looking for love" and I buy it, more because of my gut feelings and experience with this genre. But there's not really any proof laid out. She may have be
Aug 12, 2009 Pam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I got over a hundred pages into this book, but decided it just wasn't worth my time. Generally, I enjoy books about the Edwardian era, but, after reading so far in this book I realized not one person being written about was the least bit interesting except in the aspect that not one of them had any morals or any redeeming qualities whatsoever. I read the biography of the Mitford sisters who were from the same wealthy, non-working upper class Brits. They were fairly amoral, but were extremely int ...more
Laurie Notaro
Aug 15, 2015 Laurie Notaro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic. I loved this book. Bio of Idina Sackville, or aka The Bolter known in Nancy Mitford's books. If you're reading Circling the Sun, you'll run across a scene with Idina and her salacious behavior. This book, written by Idina's great grand daughter, brings the actual woman to life and what a life it was. Fabulously interesting, heartbreaking and jaw dropping. Entrancing read. One of those books I couldn't wait to get back to.
Frances Osborne is fairly young when her mother tells her that Idina Sackville, Osborne's great-grandmother, is not someone to be admired. The infamous Idina didn't follow conventional rules, and Idina's mother before that was a bit of a scuttle-butter. Idina's crime: Divorcing her husband, leaving behind two young sons, and splitting to Kenya with another man. "The Bolter" is Idina's story -- five husbands, hundreds of lovers, wicked parties, drinks, drugs, notorious friends and scandal that go ...more
Feb 18, 2010 Wendy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, africa, 2011
Lady Idina Sackville Wallace Gordon Hay Haldeman Soltau -- married and divorced 5 times between 1913-1946. She was a free spirit who was one of the ringleaders of the notorious Happy Valley set. Written by Idina's great-granddaughter, this book was an interesting glimpse into the life and loves of Lady Idina. In some ways, her life was very glamorous with lots of adventures and misadventures in Kenya. She made world headlines with her marriages and divorces. But behind all of that there seemed t ...more
Dec 10, 2009 Judith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating biography of Idina Sackville, a British aristocrat who was at the center of the 'jet-set" of the 1930's in Kenya. She married 5 times and had 3 children, all of whom she abandoned to be cared for by others so that she could party hearty. She had an incredible plantation in Kenya where she entertained guests at her lavish weekend or week-long parties, which started in her bathroom. She had cocktails served while she bathed in a luxurious marble tub, all the while chatting wi ...more
This was one of those delicious biographies about one of those women that burn too bright for this world. The author is a descendent of hers (great grand-daughter).

The Edwardians were an odd bunch. What I learned:

Open marriages are ok, as long as you always (eventually) came home to your spouse.

One divorce is ok, but have any more than that and one's breeding might come into question.

What was immensely interesting to me was that Idina (the subject of the book) ran in the same circles as Karen Bl
May 17, 2013 Joanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating account of the author's great grandmother, the notorious "bolter" and queen of Africa's Happy Valley set in the 1920's. Idina and her friends were beautiful, fabulously wealthy, and in search of excitement and adventure. Living in Edwardian England with its strict societal codes was not their style. In the wilds of Kenya, there was the thrill of the danger of the land and opportunities to live the kind of hedonistic lifestyle they craved. They were pleasure seekers who constantly par ...more
Lyn Elliott
Mar 08, 2014 Lyn Elliott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, africa
I thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Mitford's witty novels of the English upper classes and couldn't resist this biography of the original of The Bolter.
This isn't a witty or humourous book but it does give quite startling insights into the promiscuous behaviors of the wealthy sets in which Idina moved in London and then Kenya. Yes, it does read at times like a book of lists, and I didn't really try to keep track of all the liaisons. But the accumulations of infidelities all round built up a picture of m
Aug 06, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by Sackville's granddaughter, The Bolter is a recounting of Idina's life as a notorious flapper gal, member of the Happy Valley set, and generally lost soul. In the past, I've enjoyed reading about other well-known characters from colonial Kenya, but many of those people, such as Beyrl Markham, have interesting careers or compelling ambitions. Sackville is a pretty sad story. Her relationships with her five husbands and three children are disorganized and she seems to flit from person to ...more
Kate Forsyth
In Lauren Willig's Acknowledgements at the back of The Ashford Affair, she mentioned that her novel had been inspired by reading The Bolter by Frances Osborne. it sounded so fascinating I ordered it straightaway and it was just as interesting as I had expected. The Bolter is the non-fiction account of the life of Idina Sackville, the author's great-grandmother, who had inspired the key character in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate. She married and divorced numerous times, and was part of a ...more
Apr 24, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Especially recommended for those interested in the 'White Mischief-Happy Valley' set of scandals in Kenya in the 1930's and 40's. I had always pictured Idina Sackville Wallace (and her other four last names) as a femme fatale and a bit of a sociopath. A much more sympathetic and well-rounded portrait emerges here from her great-granddaughter, who had access to many family letters and interviews with those who knew Idina and her children. Rather than "The Bolter" who discarded men at her pleasure ...more
Oct 08, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book touched me. She lived fast and died young but this didn't work out for her. High society, drink, drugs, men and sex were where her priorities lay in her youth... but she did this so well that she missed out on other parts of life. You can tell she realised this too late. I think she thought she was making the right decisions to get what she truly wanted, but the decisions she made were actually her downfall.

It contained an important lesson. Sometimes you need to slow down and choose to
Sep 06, 2010 Joyce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, Edwardian society was louche. It was OK to have affairs as long as all parties were married -- lovers would be eventually returned to their spouses, marriages in tact, and any inadvertent pregnancies could be papered over.
Gives another perspective on Bertie Wooster and his milieu. Wooster, as it happens, was the name of Idina Sackville's first husband's valet, and the probably source of Wodehouse's character's name.
Vita Sackville-West, the Moseleys, Denis Finch-Hatton, Baron Blixen, Bror,
Dec 10, 2008 Ellie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it! This is a great book, and fascinating biography of a very interesting and public woman.

She is used as the basis of the Bolter character in Nancy Mitford books, and the biography is written by her grandaughter, who was not allowed to talk about her at home when growing up due to her shameful notoriety.

The bolter was famous in British society for leaving her husbands, and getting through them at an alarming rate. This is a touching and sweet insight into a very interesting and I think of
The British East-Africa Protectorate {Kenya}, 1920's :
Guests were invited for weekends--and came--driving six or seven hours each way. Insect-bitten and dust-coated, they arrived at bath time on Saturday. As they drew up at the house, half a dozen men in fezzes and long white robes started appearing from all directions. The cars were emptied of bags and these were whisked away as the guests were ushered into bedrooms scattered with tapestries and antiques, each with its own bathroom, fed by a ta
Elizabeth Moffat
Jan 01, 2013 Elizabeth Moffat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: byt
Through GoodReads I participate in a reading challenge which involves twelve books over the year (a mixture of fiction and non-fiction) that revolve around the era of the British Empire. All of the books I have read so far are fascinating, not necessarily particularly likeable in some cases, but I’ve definitely learned something through reading each book so I would count that as a positive thing. The Bolter introduces us to a lady who is in some ways, indescribable, but in no way forgettable. Id ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Sandra rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I spent 2 years in Kenya during the 1980s and knew nothing about Happy Valley or Lady Idina. Even so, among a number of the expats I met, there lingered an air of impermanence. This was manifested, for example, in a casual attitude to loaning cars, partners or furniture items, as though they were interchangeable. I was curious: was this due to living outside the social rules of their original cultures? Did living in Kenya, with its British-inherited red-tape, its creakingly slow bureaucracy, unr ...more
Feb 05, 2012 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was fascinated by this book, written about one of the chief characters of the "Happy Valley " set in Kenya in the 1920's. White mischief is one of my favourite films and to find a book about one of the main characters and you find out the author is actually her Great Grand daughter is a bonus. Her life in a nutshell was married young, left her 1st husband and her 2 children to run off with another man, ended up being married 5 times, took numerous lovers, and lived a debauched life in kenya, t ...more
Bronwyn Mcloughlin
I too was attracted to this one because of Nancy Mitford's generous borrowing from the events of Idina's life in creating The Bolter in "love in a cold climate". That Dina was also related to Vita Sackville West was another delicious bonus, and on the whole it is an engaging read. A recently discovered family connection to Kenya helped, although the family members concerned were not in Kenya until the late 50s there's a flavor of what life was like then, and an insight into how the British socie ...more
Dec 25, 2009 Dara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Ha, a review upon request. As a child, Frances Osborne read a newspaper story about Idina Sackville, known as "The Bolter" for scandalously leaving her fabulously wealthy husband and her two young sons in order to marry another man and move to Kenya, then getting married another three times and generally leading a louche lifestyle that people loved to condemn while discussing all details and rumors. Osborne was then shocked to discover that Idina was her great-grandmother. Thus started a lifetim ...more
I read this in tandem with Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfullness and they have in common Kenya and a avery strong central character . On the face of it I should have enjoyed this given the background of Edwardian life and colonial Africa . I didn't enjoy it much though .
The subject Idina Sackville the inspiration for the Bolter in Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love is hard to warm to . Married five times , ok she could have been a bad picker , and with literally countless affairs throughou
Mar 24, 2011 Anne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anne by: Goodwill's book aisle :)
It says something about this biography of Idina Sackville when I could easily have torn the family tree from the front of the book and used it as a bookmark. I was that confused. It was very difficult to keep track of who was with whom, when, where and why. Which leaves the "what" part and that sadly was too predictable. Idina and her crowd drank to excess and were sexually promiscuous to the point of international scandal. While she indulged herself participating in and watching men and women f ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Bright Young Things: The Bolter by Frances Osborne (2013 Reading Challenge) 39 41 Aug 22, 2013 12:07AM  
Read by Theme: The Bolter by Frances Osborne 1 9 Aug 11, 2012 02:32PM  
  • Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
  • Feasting the Heart: Fifty-Two Commentaries for the Air
  • The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters
  • Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940
  • White Mischief
  • Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton
  • Wait for Me!
  • The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters
  • The Etiquette of Illness: What to Say When You Can't Find the Words
  • My Father's Tears and Other Stories
  • The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm
  • The Lives of Beryl Markham
  • Fanny Stevenson: A Romance of Destiny
  • Daily Strength for Daily Needs
  • The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice de Janze and the Mysterious Death of Lord Erroll
  • Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life
  • Man Gone Down
  • The Bite of Mango
Frances Osborne was born in London and studied philosophy and modern languages at Oxford University. She is the author of two biographies; Lilla's Feast and The Bolter: Idina Sackville. Her first historical novel, Park Lane, will be published Summer 2012. Her articles have appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, the Daily Mail, and Vogue. She lives in London with her husband, ...more
More about Frances Osborne...

Share This Book