Book Review: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

PP Book Review Rodham

Has Hillary read this?  Did Bill?  What about Chelsea?

Rodham, a novel, by Curtis Sittenfeld asks the question ‘What if Hillary hadn’t married Bill?

This is not Sittenfeld’s first politically based novel.  Her earlier and equally readable ‘American Wife’ depicts a thinly disguised Laura Bush. It was released ahead of Laura’s own autobiography, to high acclaim.

“It is not easy to write fiction inspired by current events, especially if those events involve politics . . . All too often political novels descend from satire into cheap farce,” wrote Joe Klein, reviewing American Wife in Time magazine in 2008.. “American Wife is something else entirely – the opposite of a political satire, in fact – with a languorous pace and a fierce literary integrity.”

The same can be applied to Rodham. Hillary’s background history, meticulously researched, presents her as the determined, hard-working and smart Democrat that she is. It addresses her somewhat ‘plain’ appearance and how she herself perceives herself, particularly in the face of the constantly charismatic Bill Clinton whom she meets in her early 20’s at Yale.  With the same drive to improve the ’lot’ of the American people, their physical and intellectual connection is strong.  However, her refusal to marry him leads us into an equally politically based story but with a difference.

The book isn’t as dry as it sounds. The first part of the book addresses their meeting at Yale and their developing relationship. Sittenfeld has a vivid imagining of their life together. It would be nice to think it was as racy as she presents it! Following on from this, post marriage refusal, Hilary is presented as the single woman who faces the inequalities of attempting to reach high office.

Sittenfeld, clearly a Democrat herself, has researched thoroughly the American Political system and the demands it makes in order to reach high office. She has explored Hillary and Bill’s own lives via both auto-biographies and biographies in addition to a host of other relevant political books of the time.

Rodham is clever, funny, moving and thought provoking. It tackles, in addition to the political issues, those of gender, the restrictions and restraints that women face when trying to break into the ‘Boy’s Club’ and the sacrifices and personal attacks that they still face based on expected traditional roles. ‘The Donald’ plays a great cameo role in the book and Barack, our most recently favoured President, also appears. In addition, it humanises a woman who has faced great challenges throughout her political and married life. Love her or hate her, you will feel for her by the time you finish the book.

Where would America have been now if Hilary had achieved her goal?


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