‘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.
Having absolutely adored ‘American Wife’ I was dying to read Rodham and get as obsessed with Hillary’s early life and evolution as I was with the fictional representations of the Bush marriage and I am absolutely delighted to report that Rodham is even better than her previous offerings and I was totally blow away by this read. I love books that look at ‘alternate realities’ and this was one of the ultimate ‘what ifs’ for any contemporary feminist – Hillary Clinton if she hadn’t become First Lady is a fascinating concept and this conceit allows Sittenfeld to look at this Rodham-shaped universe in living colour – bringing Hillary to life on the page warts and all and taking us with her on a journey into this intriguing parallel universe
It doesn’t really matter if you love or hate Hillary in real life. This is no hagiography but instead asks us to consider big questions about female ambition and what exactly is worth giving up for any man in the universe. It covers huge questions such as when ‘enough is enough’ for any woman who wants to consider herself strong, independent or a feminist in a world where the playing field is definitely not as level as it would like to think it is. ‘Having it all’ is still very much an unattainable dream for most women and it is interesting to examine exactly how little has changed in terms of how judged women are for the choices they make across the last thirty years – sometimes dispiritingly little, it seems upon reflection…
This book is determined to show us a Hillary in all her forms, not just as a strong, empowered and ambitious role model but sometimes as petty, emotional and relentlessly driven to the point of unpleasantness. I think we are all familiar with the idea that it’s hard to be a woman in a man’s world and Rodham does not just tell us, it shows us this repeatedly across the novel. It is sometimes quite difficult to read as we see her repeatedly getting thwarted because of her gender and it increased my admiration for her character as she picked herself up, dusted herself down and gritted her teeth in order to walk forward stronger for the second time, even after her many defeats.
What I loved about this book was, just like American Wife, that it took real historical events and allows us to ‘peek’ behind the headlines and witness them from the insider perspective. Seeing their formative years as a young couple was made even more fascinating due to the fact that in this book, Hillary’s head overrules her heart and she chooses ambition over romance. Many real White House players step onto the stage as cameos in this book and it allows you to suspend disbelief and imagine yourself being there and eavesdropping on all these conversations for yourself. As a huge fan of the West Wing, I love these insights and the twist of this being ‘altered reality’ definitely added an extra level of fascination for me as I went along with the conceit and allowed myself to imagine exactly what this America might have looked like.
Although this is a fiction representation of Hillary’s character, it certainly read like truth. I loved its immersive quality and spent an afternoon by the river in a lounge chair, totally lost in its altered world. As a feminist, it was fascinating and sobering to see exactly how difficult it is to be a female with political ambitions and even though I have never been a huge fan of Hillary’s it would be difficult for anyone to finish this book without a huge amount of respect for any woman who enters this gladiatorial arena and is able to come out with their head held high. Even though President Clinton, in her pants suit, never did make it to the White House in her own right, I loved reading about her journey and think I will definitely follow up this fictional insight into Hillary’s life with an actual biography, to find out even more about this fascinating and divisive woman who cannot be said to lack ambition, even if – like Macbeth – at times it has been her undoing…
Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and I heartily recommend that you buy yourself a copy as soon as possible so that you can enjoy this wonderfully written and thought provoking read for yourself.
‘A lot of fun. A wonderful sad dream of what might have happened’ GUARDIAN
‘Startlingly good. One of my favourite writers.’ KATE ATKINSON
Writer On The Shelf
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.