Book Review - American Duchess by Karen Harper
After reading A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Fowler (about Alva Vanderbilt) and That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron (about Jennie Churchill), I was excited to keep learning about the gilded age with a story about Alva’s daughter Consuelo Vanderbilt. Many of the more peripheral characters from the first two books made appearances in American Duchess (such as Jennie’s son, Winston Churchill.) Plus, the tagline for this book was “Before there was Meghan Markle, there was Consuelo Vanderbilt, the original American Duchess.” A sentence that made me laugh - I thought that was pretty good marketing. All of these things contributed to me reading this book.
The book begins with Consuelo’s debutante season, as she attended balls in a sort of “coming out” presentation as a young, marriageable woman. As an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune, the family’s primary concern was a British title for Consuelo which would provide her more power across nations. Consuelo was in love with someone else, though (isn’t that always how these stories go?) Her mother essentially forces Consuelo to marry a duke against her will leading her to a life of unhappy marriage. Consuelo’s story is similar to that of Alva’s and Jennie’s…marry first for power/money, then for love. You’ll have to read the book to find out who Consuelo really loves (or, you know, wikipedia…but I’d recommend the book.)
I LOVED A Well-Behaved Woman and That Churchill Woman - they were two of the best books I’d read in awhile. So I had pretty high expectations coming into American Duchess. I really enjoyed reading Consuelo’s story, especially getting insight into her perspective on her relationship with Alva. I thought Karen Harper did a great job of telling a very long story (starting in the late 1800s and ending after WWII - so almost 50 years) in a single book and touching on more aspects of Consuelo’s life than just her love interests. However, I never quite got in sync with the writing style. The language the characters used to converse with one another seemed forced at times and I would trip up on some of the sentence structure. I just never found myself getting lost in the story as I had with the other two books. In the end though, I enjoyed it. And I’m glad I read it! I feel like I learned quite a bit and enjoyed the process, which is what is really important when reading historical fiction.