Friday, August 29, 2014

The Churchills in Love and War by Mary S. Lovell (2011)

I enjoyed reading this book; it was entertaining and informative.  But it was sort of like a Churchillian aquifer and as Mary Lovell drew more and more from the glorious family Churchill, the flatter and more factoid the book became.  Interestingly, the Edwardian years were the most interesting; I guess that was when the Churchills and Marlboroughs and Jeromes and such were in their heyday.  By World War II, they were definitely in descendent – and that has some wow factor since Winston Churchill was one of the three most famous men in the world (after Hitler and FDR).
Lovell tackled a giant subject though, and I think overall it was a success.  Because the cast of characters was so huge, it could have been difficult to make everyone stand out, but she drops in bits of trivia throughout that painted everyone with colorful strokes.  Clementine Churchill’s love of tennis, for example, on page 334: “Her great talent was tennis, and she always enjoyed staying somewhere where she could get a good game.”  Or this bit about the eventually insufferable and boorish Randolph Churchill:  “It was there” – Hearst Castle – “that Randolph lost his virginity to Tilly Losch, the exquisite Hungarian dancer and actress.”  It was bits like this that brought the book to life.  She’s tackled a large cast before – she wrote about the Mitford family, and that can’t have been easy.  But I remember quite liking that book too.  The Mitfords, being Churchill cousins, make several appearances, as does Kick Kennedy (for some reason).
I think the horse has been beat enough about the brilliant Churchill being depressed, but it’s still inspirational.  Also, that brilliant people sometimes have awful children. Certainly the Churchills did – except Mary.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Lovell tackled a giant subject here - but she did it once before (quite successfully) in The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, and she mostly succeeds here too.  She's drew from the extensive Churchill-Spencerian aquifer, effervescent with Marlboroughs and Vanderbilts and Mitfords and Guests and so on, a huge cast.  She drew deeply, and by the end, there wasn't much water left.  Interestingly, the most vivid parts of the book are during the late Victorian-Edwardian time period.  You would think the Churchill heyday would be World War II, but the whole family was in the ascendant during the 1870s-1910s, certainly socially, but also economically and politically too.  Lovell's genius here is dropping bits of information here and there into the book that.  Like a great painter, she uses color and light to make characters stand out - Clementine's love of tennis, or where the boorish Randolph lost his virginity, or Consuelo's Palm Beach French house - which she has to do in this huge cast of cads, heroes, villains, and cavaliers.

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