#BookReview: That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron

Biographic Fiction

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The Paris Wife meets PBS's Victoria in this enthralling novel of the life and loves of one of history's most remarkable women: Winston Churchill's scandalous American mother, Jennie Jerome.

Wealthy, privileged, and fiercely independent New Yorker Jennie Jerome took Victorian England by storm when she landed on its shores. As Lady Randolph Churchill, she gave birth to a man who defined the twentieth century: her son Winston. But Jennie--reared in the luxury of Gilded Age Newport and the Paris of the Second Empire--lived an outrageously modern life all her own, filled with controversy, passion, tragedy, and triumph.

When the nineteen-year-old beauty agrees to marry the son of a duke she has known only three days, she's instantly swept up in a whirlwind of British politics and the breathless social climbing of the Marlborough House Set, the reckless men who surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Raised to think for herself and careless of English society rules, the new Lady Randolph Churchill quickly becomes a London sensation: adored by some, despised by others.

Artistically gifted and politically shrewd, she shapes her husband's rise in Parliament and her young son's difficult passage through boyhood. But as the family's influence soars, scandals explode and tragedy befalls the Churchills. Jennie is inescapably drawn to the brilliant and seductive Count Charles Kinsky--diplomat, skilled horse-racer, deeply passionate lover. Their impossible affair only intensifies as Randolph Churchill's sanity frays, and Jennie--a woman whose every move on the public stage is judged--must walk a tightrope between duty and desire. Forced to decide where her heart truly belongs, Jennie risks everything--even her son--and disrupts lives, including her own, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Breathing new life into Jennie's legacy and the gilded world over which she reigned, That Churchill Woman paints a portrait of the difficult--and sometimes impossible--balance between love, freedom, and obligation, while capturing the spirit of an unforgettable woman, one who altered the course of history.

The “Dollar Princesses” are experiencing a surge of popularity and I can’t say I’m upset to see it. In a blatant exchange of cash for class, these women crossed the Atlantic to marry into the old-world aristocracy. Their wealth revitalized the fortunes of Europe’s elite, but their marriages were often complex, challenging, and dramatic affairs.

Taking her inspiration from the life of one of the most scandalous of these women, author Stephanie Barron reimagines the charisma, vitality, and fortitude of the American-born mother of Sir Winston Churchill. Jennie Jerome was a force in her own right and Barron’s work explores both the roots of her strength and the trials it saw her through.

I enjoyed That Churchill Woman. The cast felt decadent and fresh and I loved the social politics of the story. Barron put a great deal of research into the narrative and I felt her supporting cast, notably Consuelo Yznaga and Mary ‘Minnie’ Paget, as dynamic as Jennie herself. Jennie’s relationship with Kinskey didn’t read as strongly as I’d hoped, but you can’t win them all right?

Barron has some really interesting content in this piece, but I felt the lack of focus created thematic conflict. Jennie is the heart of the story, but Winston inexplicably becomes a second narrator in the latter chapters and the book subsequently shifts from Jennie’s character to interfamily relationships. I liked the idea, but I couldn’t help feeling it weakened the ending by allowing the novel’s heroine to be eclipsed by her firstborn.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: September 25, 2018

Pleasure was delightful, but love was never allowed. Love was misery. Love destroyed lives. The value of an affaire was that both parties were free - niether could trap the other...