I’m a sucker for a testimonial on the front of a book. See publicists? It’s worth doing what you have to do to get a respected author to give a plug. In the case of The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, I was won by the description “…in the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife…” – Loving Frank is one of my favourite books and although The Paris Wife is still hanging out in my TBR stack, trusted bookish friends have told me how ace it is. So, to the ‘wife’ at hand – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, married to famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh.
Before reading this book I didn’t know very much about the Lindberghs (and therefore have to trust that Benjamin has her facts correct). I had no idea that Anne co-piloted many of Charles’ historic and record-breaking flights; nor that Anne was the first American woman to fly a glider; I had no idea the couple were pursued relentlessly by the press; I never knew that Charles was widely thought of as a supporter of Hitler and Nazi Germany; I was not aware that Anne was an accomplished author; and I had no idea that their baby was kidnapped (sorry for that spoiler although it does seem that I was the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who didn’t know this).
So these bits were all very interesting to me… And enough to keep me wading through writing that I really didn’t like. Sure, I could have stopped (should have according to my 2013 resolution to abandon bad books) and hit the www for a quick Lindbergh run down (because really, all I needed to know was what happened to the baby). But I didn’t. I ploughed on.
Interestingly, in Benjamin’s endnotes, she states –
“As a historical novelist, the most gratifying thing I hear is that the reader was inspired, after reading my work of fiction, to research these remarkable people’s lives further.”
Achievement unlocked! After I finished The Aviator’s Wife I did indeed hit the Internet to find out more about Anne and Charles. I was particularly keen to see photos.
I’m not going to carry on about all the things that irked me in this book. I read an ARC so hopefully the final publication will be tighter, starting with an editor telling Benjamin “Melanie, put away your bloody big bag of exclamation marks.” Seriously, they were everywhere. So annoying.
The writing lacked the sophistication that the subject demanded. The story is set in glamorous times (late twenties to the early sixties) and yet the narration and dialogue didn’t match what I would expect of Anne, the well brought-up, well-educated and wealthy daughter of a foreign ambassador. I wish the Lindbergh’s story had been given the T.C. Boyle treatment – that meticulous, careful melding of fact and fiction.
I’m sure this book will cop criticism for portraying Anne as the ever-compliant wife to Charles, the demanding and tyrannical husband when she was clearly talented, capable and successful in her own right. I think we have to be mindful of the times – women did ‘obey’ their husbands! That said, Benjamin’s treatment of Anne’s situation was inconsistent. In the beginning Anne was confiding to her roommate that the thought of marriage and ‘playing house’ was the last thing she wanted. At the same time, Anne reveals she wants to be rescued by the handsome hero, Charles (whom she refers to as a hero countless times).
“No longer did I need to be responsible for my own destiny, to worry about what to do today, tomorrow, next year. I needed only to give in and be, like the simplest of creatures.”
Similarly, Anne is swooning at the sight of Charles on one page and then despising his demanding, autocratic ways the next. Sure, love-hate relationships exist however it didn’t translate convincingly in this instance.
So I did reveal the baby kidnapping… But if you’re like me and know nothing about this ‘celebrity’ couple, you’ll be interested to discover that there is another big, shocking twist in the tale.
2/5 The slow reveal chapter structure and the baby’s kidnapping kept me turning the pages. But you’ll have to ignore the sloppy writing.
There are very few food references in this book. Very, very few (short of sauerkraut in Germany and war-time rations of canned beef). Of course, bottles of champagne were popped to celebrate successful flights so I’ve picked out a decadent champagne sorbet for The Aviator’s Wife.