I know I'm in the minority with this book and most reviewers are praising it highly. I can't find it in my heart to offer it any praise at all. In fact, I found it to be quite offensive. I certainly don't believe in putting famous people on a pedestal or imagine in any regard that they aren't human with all of mankind's failings. But this book, at least to me, reduced the last years of Samuel Clemens's life to a Harlequin romance
I thought the premise of the book sounded so interesting. Why would Clemens have turned on a secretary who had seemingly been only faithful and true to him? And to do it in such a brutal way has caused much speculation. The author states that she gleaned most of the facts of this book from Isabel Lyon's own diary. But was Isabel Lyon a reliable narrator? I've read that Lyon's diary was heavily edited by her with pages ripped out. She even hand wrote a second edited new edition of her 1906 daily reminder which must raise a question as to the validity of anything written by her. What she wrote is just one side of the story. I've read in other books that Lyons stole from Clemens and took advantage of him. Who knows exactly what happened? These people are long gone from our world and can't defend themselves. They can't say, oh, no, that's not what happened at all. The plot of this book needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The offense that I found in this book was that Clemens and his family were painted in such a completely negative way, as were others.
If there's one person that I truly admire in the history of the world, it's Helen Keller. The unkind things said about her in this book angered me no end. Her "honking voice". She sniffed the air like "a rabbit". Why hadn't anyone taught her to hide her feelings that were plainly shown all over her face? Those comments did not shed any light into her life but only angered me. She, too, was portrayed in a very negative one-sided way, as was Anne Sullivan. Again, the meetings with Clemens, Keller, Sullivan and John Macy (Sullivan's husband) and the "looks" between them were mostly taken from Lyon's diaries. At one point, Macy says something about Keller and "our" dogs and Lyon makes a point of derogatorily insinuating in a sexual context that these three people might be sharing everything in the house they lived in. If Keller lived in the house as part of their household and family, Macy may naturally have felt the dogs belonged to her, too. Or he may have just been referring to "our dogs" as his and Anne's and wasn't including Helen in that statement at all. Again, this was a comment taken out of context and slanted in a negative way.
Even if I read this book without the main characters being actual people, I wouldn't have liked it. There was so much bitterness and distrust and jealous behavior throughout that I found it very unpleasant to read. Reading about these women and their daily fighting for the attention of The King (Clemens) was just plain boring. I didn't find Isabel Lyon to be a sympathetic character at all. She was a mature educated woman who knew what she was doing and what she was getting into.
I've read plenty of historical novels and understand that they're fictional accounts based on some facts but I've enjoyed them. This one I found to be far too negative and cannot recommend it. I'll continue to respect Samuel Clemens, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan for the wonderful accomplishments that they achieved in their lives and leave their private moments to be just that - private. This book will be pushing me away from historical novels for some time to come. I wish I could think of something positive to say about this book but it really did hit me the wrong way. I usually tend to veer towards the positive side when writing reviews as I do respect the hard work undertaken by authors. My apologies to the publisher for not being able to do so in this instance. I don't recall ever having given a 1-star rating before. However, the reviews I give to others need to be honest and as I see it, not as others see it.
This book was given to me by the publisher through Edelweiss and NetGalley in return for an honest review.