Book Review for “The American Adventuress” by C.W. Gortner.
Summary: “A big, juicy biopic novel by the author of Mademoiselle Chanel about the scandalous life of Jennie Jerome Churchill, mother of Winston, an heiress from New York who married into one of England’s most storied families but who always lived life on her own terms, as a royal mistress with a series of younger husbands and a son whose political rise she happily stage-managed.” “By turns scandalous, tragic, and exciting, Jennie Jerome lived an unconventional life full of defiance—one that enshrined her as an American adventuress.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical; England – London and other locations, France – Paris, USA – New York; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Romantic.
I was a bit surprised when the approval to read this novel came through, because I had essentially written it off when the release date passed in September. However, publishers move in mysterious ways, I guess, and it was a good thing I had a small window in my TBR list to read this one. Plus, ever since I read Gortner’s biographical fiction novel about Sarah Bernhardt and really enjoyed it, I thought this would be a good second outing for me with this author.
The short review is, I was right. Getting to know Jennie Jarome was something I was happy to do. This was certainly a woman before her time, some of whose romantic actions would raise eyebrows even today. On the other hand, aside from her exploits with men, she also did many things outside the bedroom that were pretty impressive. If you think about all she did, if she were living in today’s day and age, she’d probably be the CEO of some conglomerate, at the helm of some social welfare organization, or running some type of artistic venture. She’s the type of woman about whom you could say could do anything she set her mind to, and would still be standing even if she failed. She’s definitely the type of personality that piques my curiosity, and I’m glad Gortner chose her for this novel.
Much like Gortner did in “The First Actress,” we also get a first-person narrative here, where Gortner doesn’t allow her to be an unreliable narrator, to which this POV often tends to lend itself. No, Jennie is outspoken about her carnal appetites, while avoiding describing anything in too graphic a manner (thank goodness). She’s also well aware that she’s not all that caring about her financial stability, which even as she worries about one husband or another failure to make any money. Apparently, this was a type she leaned towards, since it must have reminded her of her father! Again, Gortner’s direct writing style is as accessible as it is unadorned with lyricism. I could have done with a touch more poetry regarding feelings and emotions, and fewer effusive descriptions of dresses and architecture, but that’s just me, and in general I can appreciate Gortner’s writing quite a bit.
So, with a writing style I enjoyed, and a topic that’s fascinating, we have the big questions. One is, did I really like Jennie, or did Gortner make me only admire her, despite some of her less than attractive qualities? In addition, did Gortner make me feel sorry for her when things went sour, or did I feel that she deserved what she got? Regarding the first question, I’d say that while I liked Jennie a whole lot, my admiration for her was much stronger, which does tend to distance one from a character. Regarding the latter, I also have to say that sometimes when things went badly for her, I did think she brought some of it upon herself, so I didn’t totally empathize with her. Mind you, both during the Boer War and when the Great War began, I was more sympathetic towards her than during peace times.
Overall, I somehow got the feeling that Gortner also wasn’t Jennie’s biggest fan, certainly not on the level that he seemed to show with his portrait of the actress Sarah Bernhardt. In that book I felt that Gortner warmed to his subject a great deal more than he did with Jennie. This could be because Bernhardt was a fairly effusive and dramatic person, who laughed in the face of society’s norms, while Jennie ended up being bound by them, even as she fought off their chains. Of course, it could just be that I liked Sarah better than I liked Jennie, and I’m not sure if it’s a reflection of how Gortner portrayed them, or my own personal preference. In any case, aside from her own accomplishments, she was also the mother of one of England’s greatest political leaders, so she deserves her place in history. I think that I’ll recommend this novel for lovers of British history, and give it four out of five stars.
Harper Collins – William Morrow released “The American Adventuress” by C.W. Gortner on September 20, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for (belatedly) sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.