A nanny’s diary chronicles the goings on of a famous American clan.
Having employed a similar voyeuristic technique in Gone with the Windsors (2006), British novelist Graham now turns her attentions to America’s analogous imperial family via the remembrances of an observant Irish servant. With nine children under young Nora Brennan’s charge and the tough matriarch Rose Kennedy breathing down her neck, it’s a wonder Nora has time to put pen to paper. Her account sacrifices the political years, delving instead into the darker days between world wars to explore the peculiar domestic dynamics of the teeming family. Fierce father Joe is portrayed as a whirling dervish with voracious appetites. Rose, meanwhile, is described by the servant girl as having “a heart as hard as the hob of hell.” Nora’s affections run to slow-witted, disregarded Rosemary and obstinate social butterfly Kathleen, called “Kick.” In a lush testimonial, Nora brings readers from the prosperous mansions of Hyannis to the war-torn streets of London, and finally to the eve of Jack’s presidential campaign. It’s in the book’s denouement during World War II that the Kennedy tragedies take root. Jack sustains a wartime injury; Rose becomes the victim of a crippling lobotomy; and prodigal son Joseph succumbs to an early death. Even Nora suffers, sacrificing a chance at marriage and happiness to serve the family she calls “my Kennedys.” The tart observations of lives of privilege may take the shine off the Camelot myth, but Graham’s book is marked not by ridicule but rather by an elegant, forthright poignancy.
A refreshingly nostalgia-free portrayal that breathes life into the Kennedy story.