I won this biography from First Reads and was really jazzed that I did because biographies and memoirs about/by interesting women are a favorite of mi...moreI won this biography from First Reads and was really jazzed that I did because biographies and memoirs about/by interesting women are a favorite of mine. I have to admit that although I’d heard of both subjects, I really didn’t know anything about either woman. Susan Hertog relates the two women’s friendship and similar life trajectories to write this joint biography of two female writers who pushed the boundaries of twentieth century womanhood in their professional lives. Hertog juxtaposes West’s and Thompson’s widely known public lives with their often fruitless search for love, painting a complex picture of two extraordinary women.
The first chapter didn’t bode well for me; I was turned off by Hertog’s weird, overly detailed recounting of the party where the women met. I was relieved that the rest of the book was written in a more traditional biographical style. Although I generally enjoyed this book’s prose and flow, I found its structure to be clumsy and almost jarring at times as a reader. It alternates chapters between Rebecca and Dorothy; for example one chapter will be about Rebecca’s life from 1941-1945 and the next will explore Dorothy’s life from 1939-1942. It generally wouldn’t be a big deal but as there are some important contextual events happening (WWII anyone?) it was somewhat disconcerting to read about VE Day in one chapter to be hustled back to the beginning of the war in the next. Also it was rather annoying to read about an important event in one woman’s life in the other woman’s chapter before it had happened in the first woman’s storyline.
I think the whole premise of the biography as a joint work was a little flawed as well. I finished the book with the impression that the two women held a casual friendship rekindled at several points in their life, but no enduring relationship was apparent to me. I would expect such a detailed joint biography to be about two people who were closer than Dorothy and Rebecca seemed to be. I was also surprised that I didn’t find either woman particularly likable. Generally when I read a biography, I’m left with a sense of connection to the person profiled but I didn’t feel that same spark in this book. Perhaps Hertog was too brutally honest addressing their flaws; Dorothy’s obsessive career focus and Rebecca’s self-pity annoyed me.
I was fascinated by the chapters that covered WWII. Both women, (probably Dorothy more so) were profoundly affected by the events that led up to and followed WWII. Rebecca and Dorothy endured personal hardships as loved ones were lost and were also professionally and intellectually inspired and challenged by the war’s horrors. I think WWII was the defining world event for Dorothy, not just because she experienced the peak of her popularity through her wartime columns but because so much of her worldview was stretched by the war.
This duo both led fascinating lives but Hertog pays equal attention to their private lives, and the more mundane events were just as compelling to read. The two women both lost parents young and this seemed to affect them profoundly in their adult lives as they relentlessly searched for companions (famous and unknown) who truly understood them.
I can see Dangerous Ambition having wide appeal among those with an interest in Rebecca West or Dorothy Thompson, but it’s also an interesting read for people like who started the book without much knowledge of either woman and a fondness for biography and outspoken women. (less)
I won this historic fiction novel from the First Reads program. I entered because I have been satisfying my historic fiction itch with a lot of WWII n...moreI won this historic fiction novel from the First Reads program. I entered because I have been satisfying my historic fiction itch with a lot of WWII novels lately. I mainly read books about Great Britain during the war so I enjoyed that this one was set in France because it was a nice change of pace for me.
I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book because I didn’t really enjoy any of the characters. Thankfully, Claire grew on me with time but she started out awfully flat. In general, I think all the characters could have used some more fleshing out. Sheene came up with an interesting storyline but it didn’t really stand on its own for me. It seemed that there was a lack of historic research to bolster the little details that I often enjoy the most about the historic fiction genre. There were also some points when the writing style veered dangerously close to Harlequin romance territory for me.
In the end, I did enjoy this book and felt that it got much more interesting (and intense) as the story progressed. It was a good light read and I can see many romance and historic fiction fans enjoying this novel. (less)
I am a little surprised to find that many share the opinion that this is one of Waters’s lesser works. I loved this richly detailed novel set in WWII...moreI am a little surprised to find that many share the opinion that this is one of Waters’s lesser works. I loved this richly detailed novel set in WWII London. This was one of my favorite books so far this year and I liked it more than Fingersmith-I found that book to be so suspenseful to almost be exhausting to read. Waters depicts the interrelationships through many characters through time flawlessly and I found the structure of the book (going backward in time) to be very well done. Waters is one of those authors who writes her characters so realistically I re-read passages just to revel in their accuracy.
I’ve been on a Blitz kick lately and I would recommend Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis to people who are looking for more WWII novels with a wide but related cast of characters and not necessarily chronological story line. (less)