Rodham

 

Rodham front cover

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld

Finished on: 28 July 2020

Where did I get this book: A kindle read

Sometimes you hear about the premise of a new book and, even when you have about 700 books waiting to be read, it won’t leave you alone. The literary equivalent of a child who *really* wants your attention and won’t let you concentrate on anything else until they’ve got it.

Alright, Rodham, I’ll read you – but then you have to give me some peace.

What if Hillary Clinton had never married Bill? It’s a seductive and brave idea for a book. The Clintons do meet, fall in love, and are together for several years but, well before Bill begins his run for president, they split up and send the whole world, not just their own lives, off on an alternative Back to the Future II-style timeline.

I read Sittenfeld’s American Wife, the fictionalised biography of Laura Bush, a few years ago and loved it. It is a quiet, thoughtful but completely compelling book, and I was fascinated to see what its creator would do with this more outlandish proposition.

Rodham is a totally different beast from American Wife, though. It took me a little while to realise that and adjust my expectations. Much of this story is pure fun and fantasy. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that, particularly at the moment.

It’s such a page-turner. From the first section on Hillary’s early life which, I understand, stays pretty true to reality, to the final section imagining an alternative 2016 US presidential election, I was gripped. I found the whole thing fascinating, if frustrating in parts. The main source of frustration was that I’d imagined this charismatic but clearly highly dodgy chap, Bill Clinton, would exit stage left from Hillary’s life after their break-up, and leave her to find fulfilment elsewhere.  It annoyed me that he continued to be a central figure in her life, and the book, hanging around like a bad smell.

One reviewer describes the story of Rodham as ‘Hill without Bill,’ but it’s not that at all. It’s Hill and Bill, she’s just not married to him.

The truth is this book isn’t attempting to be a serious ‘here’s what would’ve happened’ thesis. It’s wish fulfilment. And I love it for that. I love that such a brilliant writer has taken on a fantasy scenario and allowed her imagination to go to town with it. Once I got my head around the fact this is what Sittenfeld is doing, I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed myself immensely.

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