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Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Are you a fan of "Downton Abbey"? This novel is basically the story of the mother, the rich American heiress who comes over to England to marry royalty and gain a title. The Brits need American money, and Americans desperately want titles; it was a match made in heaven.

In the 1890s, Cora Cash is the richest, most desirable young debutant in America. Loosely based on the true story of Consuela Vanderbilt (although the Vanderbilts are mentioned in  passing), Cora goes to England to find a good match, and while out of a ride she hits her head and is knocked out. Conveniently she is found by the Duke of Wareham (Ivo), nursed back to health, and he proposes. Her meddling mother and his striving mother along with other characters come to England to see how Cora would navigate the particulars of a British upper society eager to see her fail. To increase the Upstairs/Downstairs parallels, you also get the perspective of Cora's lady's maid, an African-American, who is pretty unique in England and in fact experiences less racism there, if she's even more of a novelty.

This book was a very fast read, I zipped through it in just a few days despite its length (helped along by a largish font). This era was somewhat new to me, so it was intriguing to learn about. Plus, the extravagance and opulence are so much fun to read about. Cora has her unappealing side, being spoiled and obsessed with, but as time goes on, you become very sympathetic to this young woman who everyone has such great expectations for, who wants to marry for love but is pressured to marry for status, and who has no real allies in her life.

I will be intrigued to see how our discussion goes at book group. There are a lot of potential topics, such as class issues, race issues, money vs. love vs. status, and of course if you think Cora did the right thing at the end. I can't of course explain what I mean by that without giving away spoilers, but it's a very intriguing situation she ends up in and I suspect a controversial decision she comes to. The book might seem like light fluff, and if that's what one wants, one doesn't need to look further, but there is more beneath the surface than at first appears.

I bought this book at Park Road Books.

5 comments:

nomadreader said...

I intended to read this last summer but never got around to it. Perhaps I'll make time for it this summer instead. It sounds delightful!

Stephanie said...

I have this book sitting on my side table waiting to be read. After ready your review I now know I have to move it up in the pile. Thanks!

Christina T said...

I love Downton Abbey and I've had this book on my TBR pile for awhile. I am currently reading Wentworth Hall, a YA book compared to Downton Abbey and I hope to get to The American Heiress soon. I hope your book discussion goes well!

Melissa Mc (Gerbera Daisy Diaries) said...

Have been rather curious about this book...

emilysmithpearce said...

This is the kind of fluff I'm going to need for my summer move. Sign me up.