‘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.
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.
What I Thought:
What an intriguing prospect Rodham is. While alternate history is a really fun genre to read, I was slightly hesitant with this book as I don’t think I’ve ever read an alternate history book where the subject is a real person who is still living. Would the fact that Hillary Rodham-Clinton is still with us colour my enjoyment of the book?
Apart from the tiniest tickle at the back of your mind when you remember who the book is about, there’s nothing here to spoil your enjoyment of what is a fantastic read.
We join Hillary Rodham at Yale and go into detail as she meets Bill Clinton and moves to Arkansas to be with him as he takes his first run at being elected to Congress. But where the real Hillary and Bill married and became the ultimate 90s power couple, this story sees Hillary leave Bill, literally driving away into the sunset.
Fast forward 15 years and Hillary is now a law professor at Northwestern, butting up against workplace misogyny and considering her own political ambitions. Fast forward again, and Hillary is eyeing a run for President – is Curtis Sittenfeld going to give us the President the world deserved in 2016?
It’s a really canny choice for Curtis Sittenfeld to use Hillary Rodham-Clinton as the focus of the novel, precisely because we know how real life turned out, but really this book could be about any woman of Hillary’s age who has persevered in the face of direct and indirect bias in life and work, purely because of her sex. There are some really interesting observations that could only have been made by a woman, mainly based around how women are perceived as they age and the innate suspicion of any woman who chooses to remain single, childless or both.
You could highlight whole chapters of the book which show how female political candidates have to think twice as hard as their male counterparts about running in the first place, and then how they have to work twice as hard to be elected. I can’t think about the perfectly observed sections about how the press will criticise every facet of a female candidate, while ignoring huge red flags in her male opponents without rage. It’s all true and we see it every day in the media.
The alternate version of Hillary’s life is interwoven with real-life political events, which inspire her and others and also provide some shocking statistics – for instance, in 1991, only 2 women sat in the US Senate, and neither of those women were invited to serve in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, despite testimony from a woman he had allegedly sexually harassed. This real-life event inspired several women to run for Senate the following year, of which five were elected.
This tying in of real-life events has made me want to grab Hillary Rodham-Clinton’s What Happened, just to see which events in her personal life were true and also what she thought of the events that inspired her alter-ego.
Rodham may be a book about one woman, but there is so much in it that speaks to all women. There are experiences in it that any woman could have experienced – even as far as wanting to go for a swim but forgetting to shave your legs. From the mundane to the monumental, there are lessons for us all here and it’s brilliant to be able to read them through the lens of what might have been.
2016 may be a year that Hillary Rodham-Clinton would rather forget but, still, #ImWithHer…
Rodham is published by Doubleday.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Rodham. To read more reviews and exclusive content, please do take a look at some of the blogs below:
Please note: I was sent a copy of this book via Netgalley for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.