Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

The blurb …

‘Awfully opinionated for a girl’ is what they call Hillary as she grows up in her Chicago suburb. Smart, diligent, and a bit plain, that’s the general consensus. Then Hillary goes to college, and her star rises. At Yale Law School, she continues to be a leader— and catches the eye of driven, handsome and charismatic Bill. But when he asks her to marry him, Hillary gives him a firm ‘No’.

The rest, as they say, isn’t history. How might things have turned out for them, for America, for the world itself, if Hillary Rodham had really turned down Bill Clinton?

With her sharp but always compassionate eye, Sittenfeld explores the loneliness, moral ambivalence and iron determination that characterise the quest for high office, as well as the painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world ruled by men. Uncannily astute and witty in the telling, RODHAM is a brilliant reimagining – an unmissable literary landmark and truly a novel of our times.

About the author …

In addition to Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller American Wife, in which she painted a picture of an ordinary American girl – a thinly-disguised Laura Bush – who found herself married to a President. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize, as was her debut novel Prep.

Her other books are Man of My DreamsSisterland (a Richard & Judy Book Club pick), Eligible, and the acclaimed short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It.
Her books are translated into 30 languages.

She lives with her family in the American Mid-West.

My review …

I’m so grateful that I was invited onto this tour because it’s given me a chance to read this incredible book when otherwise I’m not sure I would have picked it up. I love the concept of this novel and Sittenfeld’s writing is outstanding and easy to read considering the complex subject matter. I must admit that I know next to nothing about American politics and although a lot of this went over my head, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story.

I was about 19 years old when the scandal surrounding Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky hit the news so I remember quite a lot about Bill Clinton but not necessarily about Hillary and I didn’t have an opinion about her before I read this – apart from wishing she had won the Presidency in 2016! Narrated by Hillary we follow her from her 1969 graduation speech at Wellesley and subsequent attendance at Yale Law School, where she meets charming and handsome Bill, right the way through her political career up until the 2016 presidential campaign. We discover what Hillary’s life would be like if she hadn’t married Bill, hadn’t had her daughter and had focussed solely on her career. We see how Hillary’s life and career is plagued by the sexist media who scrutinise and criticise every area of her appearance, personality, private and public life in ways that wouldn’t happen if she was a man. The story highlights these disgraceful double standards and the glass ceiling that exists for women who have to choose between having a career, or being a wife and mother, and for fictional Hillary and real life Hillary, she just can’t seem to please anyone in this regard.

I became so immersed in this book that I had to remind myself that I wasn’t reading Hillary’s autobiography. Because the book is written around real events, and obviously because the ‘characters’ are real people and the dialogue was so convincing, this whole alternate reality was completely believable and absolutely fascinating. One of my favourite ‘characters’ to make an appearance was Donald Trump and I thought his involvement and idiosyncrasies were spot on and very amusing! I also found the story to be quite emotional and I did feel quite tearful at certain points, particularly when Hillary and Bill separated despite being very much in love, and also the moment when Obama took to the stage with his family after winning the presidential election.

I liked Hillary’s alternate ending, but at the same time I can’t say I wish this for her in real life, even though her marriage and career have had some extremely hard times, I kept thinking about Hillary without her daughter Chelsea and, as a mother myself, that is really unthinkable. I truly respected the decisions of fictional Hillary and feel that she would be an inspiration to girls and women the world over but I’m not sure if I can say the same about real life Hillary. Would I want my young daughters to be inspired by someone who allowed themselves to be mistreated by their husband even if it meant furthering their career, possibly to be the first female president of the USA? I really don’t know. This is such a thought provoking story in so many ways. It not only made me question Hillary’s decisions but also my own life choices and I pondered on how things could have turned out differently for me if I had done X instead of Y. I would actually be interested in finding out more about the real Hillary and reading her autobiographies. I also wonder whether she will read this book!

Rodham is published in hardback by Doubleday on 9th July 2020.

Thank you so much to the author, Doubleday and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour and for a digital copy of this book in exchange for my review.

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