When I saw the cover of American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, my first thought was of Grace Kelly. But Goodwin's novel takes place before that time period, set in the Gilded Age. I found Goodwin's inspiration behind the writing of American Heiress quite fascinating.
"Daisy has long been fascinated with the Gilded Age, and she decided to write about it when she was visiting Blenheim Palace and saw a portrait of Consuelo Vanderbilt looking absolutely miserable. Consuelo is the inspiration behind this book: the American heiress who went to England, married the Duke of Marlborough, lived at Blenheim...Daisy's "aha' moment, which precipitated her to write this novel, revolved around wondering who these girls were, what happened to them in England, how they lived, coped, adjusted, etc."
Goodwin has created Cora Cash, an incredibly wealthy young socialite living in Newport, Rhode Island in 1893 at the time of her 'debut'. Cora's mother is determined that Cora will make the best match possible. And what she wants cannot be bought in the United States - a title. So they debut continues in England. And Mrs. Cash finally has her wish - Cora marries a Duke. But life is not the fairytale that Cora had imagined. Does her husband truly love her? Her mother-in-law seems determined to thwart her at every turn. The staff don't respect her. And she is alone in a strange country with no friends and really no idea of how things are done in England.
Cora is spunky and full of life, determined to succeed at everything. I enjoyed her enthusiasm, but found her to be a bit of a spoiled brat at times. Certainly this can be explained by her upbringing, but I found her treatment of her maid Bertha discouraging. Bertha's story was for me just as interesting as Cora's. Bertha's attempts to find happiness for herself don't even register on Cora's radar. The Duke and his mother (and Cora's mother) were somewhat cliched and almost 'over the top'. I had trouble really 'buying' the love that Cora felt for Ivo - it read like childish infatuation. I wanted to shout at her more than once to open her eyes and really 'see' things. Duke Ivo never really graduated from moneygrubber to devoted husband for me.
What I did really enjoy was the dialogue - the barbed intent behind the politest of phrase. Goodwin has done a wonderful job with this and depicting the social mores of the time. The difference between the servants and their masters was interesting and eye opening. I enjoyed the descriptions of the settings.
American Heiress was good light historical fiction and a strong debut effort, but serious historical fiction readers might be disappointed. Read an excerpt of American Heiress or listen to an excerpt read by Katherin Kellgren. She is a fabulous narrator who effortlessly portrays the various players.
You can find Goodwin on Facebook and on Twitter.