Wednesday, March 18, 2020

And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton

First, a clarification before I review this book: I said And They Called It Camelot is a fictional biography about John and Jackie Kennedy, a couple days ago. That's not entirely accurate. As you can see from the words on the cover, it says And They Called It Camelot is a novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Most of the book, however, does cover her years with JFK. There's a little bit before she started dating him and then it focuses on what it was like to date a Kennedy with the presidency in his sights, deal with things like his back injuries and her miscarriages, and become a very young First Lady with two small children. Jackie's story is told in four parts and the fourth part is the shortest, skipping ahead, little by little, to the final chapter in 1977.

So, what did I think of this story? I liked the learning experience. I knew JFK was known for having multiple affairs. I knew Jackie had at least one miscarriage while she was First Lady and I think I was aware she'd had a couple of others. I didn't know the details, though — how often JFK left his wife for months, hanging out in Europe with other women; how many miscarriages Jackie had and how far along she was. These things were much more severe than I realized. It was also interesting getting a glimpse into events like the election and why people thought it unlikely JFK would win; learning about what was important to Jackie as First Lady and how her past job keeping an upscale home informed the way she remodeled the White House; reading about her life after the loss of her husband to an assassin. I learned a lot! That's what I loved best about the book. It's also a very smooth read.

The only things I didn't like about the book were more about preference and personal viewpoint than anything else. I'm increasingly finding that I have a great deal of difficulty suspending disbelief when it comes to fictional biographies. I'll skid to a halt thinking, "Would he or she really have thought this way?" or wondering if the dialogue is anywhere near reality. I still can enjoy a book with those questions running through my head, but I'm leaning toward reading more biographies that include primary source documents within the text, in the future. I know not every biography is 100% accurate because there's always a little bit of the author's or historian's viewpoint involved and some things can only be guessed at, but I'm finding I prefer to actually see the words of the people I'm reading about. Also, this book made me kind of hate JFK. I've long known of his affairs but seeing it through Jackie's eyes was immensely painful.

Recommended to a specific audience - I enjoyed And They Called It Camelot especially for the learning experience and particularly recommend it to anyone who has a fascination for Jackie Kennedy Onassis and/or those who enjoy historical fiction or historical biographies. While I'm back on a buying ban, And They Called It Camelot piqued my interest enough that I'd probably hop online and order some books about the Kennedys and the Sixties (always a favorite time period to read about, anyway) if I wasn't avoiding purchases.

Fun side effect of reading this book: There are quite a few descriptions of Jackie's outfits, events they attended, people they knew, the interior of the White House, etc. I spent a lot of time looking up photographs of those things. It always adds a little dimension when photos of the subject matter are readily available.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy of And They Called It Camelot!

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  1. I hear what you are saying about wanting actual words rather than fiction, but even in non fiction you can sometimes lose context and meaning.

    1. Yes, so true. I do think nonfiction is improving (becoming less dry and more readable), in general, but neither is perfect. I think NF may just work better for me.


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