Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: The Bolter by Frances Osborne

On Friday 25th May, 1934, a forty-one-year-old woman walked into the lobby of Claridge's Hotel to meet the nineteen-year-old son whose face she did not know. Fifteen years earlier, as the First World War ended, Idina Sackville shocked high society by leaving his multimillionaire father to run off to Africa with a near penniless man. An inspiration for Nancy Mitford's character The Bolter, painted by William Orpen, and photographed by Cecil Beaton, Sackville went on to divorce a total of five times, yet died with a picture of her first love by her bed. Her struggle to reinvent her life with each new marriage left one husband murdered and branded her the 'high priestess' of White Mischief's bed-hopping Happy Valley in Kenya. Sackville's life was so scandalous that it was kept a secret from her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne. Now, Osborne tells the moving tale of betrayal and heartbreak behind Sackville's road to scandal and return, painting a dazzling portrait of high society in the early twentieth century.

Review Number 1 - 30th - 31st October 2011:
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 - 20th November 2014: 
I have just finished this book for the second time (19th November 2014). 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 in her married life, and despite some of the choices she made thereafter.

Book 1 deals with Idina's early life, her childhood and her first marriage and its subsequent breakdown. The Second Book deals with Idina's life in Kenya and her next set of marriages - making it five in total - and five divorces (we don't count her many, many lovers).

The 1920s and 1940s were a somewhat liberating time for women - many deciding to break free from the constricting structure of Edwardian life in England, and following their own path - sometimes towards happiness, sometimes towards self destruction.

The author Frances Osborne is the great-granddaughter of Idina - a woman not mentioned in family circles and one who was not regarded as a role-model. The author takes us through her own journey of discovery and presents for us a woman with all her foibles, a woman of strength and frailty, a woman not of her times, a woman who draws us back into her web and keeps us within her grip as her life unfolds before us.

Read this in conjunction with Paul Spicer's "The Temptress" and James Fox's "White Mischief".

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