A good friend of mine, Ashlynn, has great taste in a lot of things, but we haven’t often given one another book recommendations. So I knew when she let me know a couple of weeks ago that she would be passing a book my way, it would be awesome. There are no words…. almost.
The Bolter: The story of the wild, beautiful, fearless Idina Sackville, descendant of one of England’s oldest families, who went off to Kenya in search of adventure and became known as the high priestess of the scandalous “Happy Valley Set.”
Totally sounds made up, right? Except it’s not. I have been on a nonfiction kick lately anyway, and one thing I have learned is truth really can be stranger than fiction. A lot stranger.
Idina Sackville is born to a woman who crosses lines and challenges the societal norms of her time. She divorces her husband, organizes activists, and generally raises hell. Idina is no different, though at first she appears to adhere to the expectations of a young, wealthy woman. She finds a handsome, independently-wealthy man and marries him. However, the world is on the brink of World War I, and love is expendable. Happiness becomes a momentary, fleeting emotion, and men on the front are willing and eager to seek that high wherever they may find it. Idina, a sensible young woman, goes about finding happiness on her own, and in the process, she loses her children and what is, to the author Frances Osborne believes, the love of her life.
Frances, the great-granddaughter or granddaughter (forgive me, I’m not good with lineage) is the teller of this fantastical tale. She may take some liberties; however, she uses primary sources often, even interviewing former friends of Idina who asked not to be named, and that which is not cited still feels very close to the truth.
Idina is enigmatic. Not classically beautiful, she exudes sex and the forbidden, attracting men half her age and then some into her intriguing lair. Clothes are designed for her. Newspapers follow her, yet Idina pays little attention. She runs headlong into relationship after relationship, seeking the one thing she has never been able to find again after Euan, her first husband – love, based on mutual respect, attraction, and emotion.
What she finds instead, is man after man who must be entertained in order not to stray. Amuse them, she does, throwing lurid parties, spoken about in hushed tones by neighbors or those unlucky enough not to be invited. Unfortunately for Idina, there are moments when she is unable to be the entertainer, such as when she becomes pregnant with her third husband’s child:
For all her nonchalance – photographs show her lolling on the lawn, a book balanced on her bump – the pregnant Idina’s life was full of, as the Kenyans called them, shauries (worried). However active she remained, when the baby arrived, shortly after Christmas, she would be forced to lie low for several weeks, leaving Joss unattended to. And Joss it had become clear, needed constant female attention. As long as he returned from his liasons, that was fine. But he might not.
Idina’s frank realizations of her husbands’ limitations and her willingness to “loan them out” in order to retain them was, to me, so sad. Her life, though fascinating, was tireless and unsettled. She loses husband after husband, meets her adult sons and loses them to the war in quick succession, and mourns the love she never truly got over, Euan. She wore a ring he gave her until the end of her life and always kept a photo of him in her bedroom, regardless of with whom she shared her bed.
The Bolter is a tantalizing account of not just a woman but also of a time period bookended by war, an era marked by loss and desperation. Osborne creates a world where that desperation is played out in drawing rooms and boudoirs, where each person is aware of the stakes but not necessarily prepared for the fallout.
Because every generation attempts to blame the fall of society on the next, I was honestly shocked by the goings on in Edwardian England, and if you are looking for nonfiction or just a really interesting read, I highly recommend you pick up The Bolter.
jenn aka picky girl aka a total square (at least compared to Lady Idina Sackville)
**Don’t forget today is Friday, and that means you are invited to participate in Friday Reads, which I talked about last week. You can join in the fun on Facebook, Twitter, or on the blog. Find out what others are reading and win some really cool prizes.