Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Title: The American Heiress
Author: Daisy Goodwin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Headline Review
Published: 2010
Pages: 480

Rating: 1 out of 10

Set in both New York and England during the Gilded Age, this book follows the story of Cora Cash, a beautiful heiress famous for being the wealthiest young lady in America. Her scheming socialite mother only wants one last thing for her daughter: a title. And so, Cora is sent to England to find a husband of nobility, where she finds herself soon engaged to Duke Ivor of Wareham.

My Last Duchess (later published in the U.S. as The American Heiress) was a weakly written, predictable, and insipid book that I was only too happy to eliminate from my shelves.

The first thing that annoyed me was the author's constant throwing about of stilted descriptions of grandeur, obviously meant to be impressive. Rather than give the book an atmosphere of elegance and wealth (which is what normally comes to mind at the mention of the Gilded Age), I simply felt that she was tossing names and sums of money about at random.
An example from the first few pages:

The Cash household had its own Hall of Mirrors, which the visitors who had been to Versailles pronounced even more spectacular than the original.

Rather than show us the finery that the heroine is privileged to, Goodwin only ever tells us. Everyone in the book is aghast at the fact that the Cash family has their own trans-Atlantic steamer, and then the author throws in the fact that Cora brought along eight of her favorite horses on the voyage. But we never actually 'see' this ship for ourselves, or get a description of it. We are simply told that it is enormously expensive, and that's all that we really need to know.
Cora is constantly referred to as "the richest girl in the world," or "an American princess," or "a billionaire."
It just all seemed so very over the top and silly.

All of the characters are neglected, even the main character of Cora. I never liked her - at the beginning, she was a spoiled, foolish girl. At the end, she was the same.
She says to a man at one point: "Would you like to kiss me? Most men want to, but I am just too rich."
I certainly never felt that I got to know her. In the first few chapters, the reader is given the impression that she is a strong-willed girl longing to break free of her mother's controlling grasp. It could have been an interesting plot development, but it is dropped within the first twenty pages.

Cora's mother seemed set to become a major, interesting character, but she fell out of the plot entirely less than halfway through. Much the same for Teddy, a love interest of Cora's, who leaves and then weakly re-enters the book later on without ever being in much focus.

None of the characters were focused on enough, and none of their relationships made very much sense to me.

The supposed "romance" between the Duke, Ivo, and Cora was trivial and uninspiring. In fact, I would have to say that no love ever existed between them, and nor is it ever likely to.
Cora conveniently (but utterly by chance) takes a fall off her horse while riding through the Duke's property. Also by chance, he happens to stumble across her and rescue her.
Before they have shared even twenty minutes together, they are engaged. The society and gossip papers of two continents are obsessed with the couple's wedding, but they themselves approach it nonchalantly. The book seemed to always be highlighting the fact that their relationship lacked passion, and was cool and distanced - boring, even. I assumed that this was some sort of set-up so that Cora could leave Ivo in the end, and realize that wanting a title was no excuse to marry someone, but it turned out that it was just the way that their relationship was. Despite their obvious lack of any chemistry, the book insists that they love each other.

There is a revelation at the end of brothers falling in love with the same woman, who cheated on both of them, leading one brother to attempt suicide. His brother encouraged him, but then tried to save him, but failed, and convinced himself that he had killed his sibling, then went on to convince himself that the woman had actually made him kill his sibling, whilst both hating and loving her. The woman, to make the man angry, married a rich man, who was another sibling...
All this boggling information was dumped on the reader in exactly this manor - rushed and nonsensical. Perhaps if it had been built up, and written with a bit of finesse and talent, it would have been interesting.
But here, it was so B-grade soap opera, I skimmed the paragraph without even trying to make sense of it all.

This was an extremely obvious, shakily written book that was sorely in need of an editor. Not recommended. Just no.