Blog Tour Review: Rodham – Curtis Sittenfeld

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

About The Book

‘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 re-imagining – an unmissable literary landmark and truly a novel of our times.

My Review

Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of former American President Bill Clinton, the first woman to run for President, the person who lost to one Donald Trump in 2016, but what would have happened if Hillary and Bill hadn’t married? If she hadn’t built a life with him in Arkansas and helped him in his path to become the 42nd President of the United States? If she didn’t watch as her husband faced impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors” in 1998? What sort of life would she have led? What would she have become? In Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld asks these questions and more and examines an alternate reality.

This is a book which will polarise opinion. I’m sure some may feel that it isn’t appropriate to write in this way about people who are still living. Whilst I understand this, I decided to read this as a piece of fiction and to reserve judgement until I had finished it. It is my first Curtis Sittenfeld book, I had only heard great things about her writing but I didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was a book which was deftly and intelligently written about an incredible woman and completely moreish and left me wondering why I hadn’t read anything by her sooner.

Although I approached this as fiction, I kept forgetting it wasn’t an autobiography. It is written from Hillary’s point of view and her voice is a clear as a bell. We meet her as she is about to take to the stage to be the first ever student speaker to do a Commencement Speech at her graduation from Wellesley College in May 1969. This is a historical moment and the speech she gives garners national media attention and is a glimpse into her brilliance. It puts us straight into Hillary’s head and is a powerful opening to an extraordinary book.

Split into three sections, the first concentrates on her time at Yale and her relationship with Bill. She has always felt plain and is told on more than one occasion that she is “one the boys” and is taken by surprise that the charismatic Bill Clinton is interested in her. Their courtship is intense and they are more than equally matched in terms of intelligence and intellectual possibility but it his dream to become President, something which he treats as as his destiny rather than an ambition. He expects to one day live in the White House and that she will support him, not only emotionally but with her intellect and sharp mind.

I won’t go into what leads to Hillary and Bill not marrying, but suffice it to say that factual events are used to frame the fictional events portrayed in this book. The use of real life events make this feel utterly authentic which added to the perception that I was reading an autobiography and adding weight to the alternate reality.

At its heart though is the portrayal of a smart, astute and brilliant woman. A woman who recognises that she has to work ten times as hard as a male contemporary just to stay on a level playing field. A woman who is ambitious, intelligent and unafraid to speak her mind. A woman who is deemed as being unlikable because she is ambitious, intelligent and unafraid to speak her mind. She even asks herself at one point “And really, wasn’t this endless ruminating over my own likeability a thing only a woman would do?”

It is this disparity between the sexes which form the crux of the novel. Dare I say that this book isn’t really about Hillary at all? Spanning from the 1970s to the present day it is a book about the treatment of women both politically and socially, it explores feminism, racism, sex, sexual assault and the double standards between men and women. It shows both how far we have come but how much more work there is to do.

This is a great novel about an endlessly interesting woman. It led me down some Google rabbit holes (it turns out despite having an A Level in American History I know very little about the political system) and has made me want to read both more about Hillary and more from Curtis Sittenfeld.

About The Author

Curtis Sittenfeld

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 Dreams, Sisterland (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.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Doubleday for a copy of the book and to Anne Cater for an invitation to join the Blog Tour.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld is out today in hardcover and ebook.

3 thoughts on “Blog Tour Review: Rodham – Curtis Sittenfeld

  1. I keep meaning to order this from my local indie bookshop, so glad there’s a blog tour to remind me. You should read “American Wife”, that does the same thing with Laura Bush, and as you say is not simply about an individual but about the society of the time. Another book that successfully takes a well known figure and imagines a different outcome is Monica Ali’s “Untold Story” about Princess Diana.It’s a growing genre and I’m all for it though I imagine you have to read very carefully for libel before publishing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am dying to read American Wife! I have Sisterland on my bookshelf and will get to it soon hopefully. I just completely fell for this book and found it so interesting – the way she weaves fact and fiction together is so clever. I’ll look up Untold Story, thanks for the rec!

      Liked by 1 person

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