An evocative, empathetic treatment of what was, in all senses of the word, a difficult life.

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MARY SHELLEY

A new biography of the author of Frankenstein that aims to comprehend her character rather than assess or advance her literary standing.

The first part of the story is well-known. In 1814, 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of two brilliant and celebrated liberal thinkers, eloped with her father’s married disciple, Percy Shelley. Two years later, Mary’s masterpiece was conceived on a stormy night at Byron’s house in Switzerland. After eight itinerant years in Percy’s entourage, which included her stepsister, Claire Clairmont, she returned to England with her one surviving child, widowed, penniless, and, despite first-class literary connections that she retained throughout her life, a social pariah. Determined to exhalt Percy’s literary reputation but forbidden by her intransigent father-in-law from using his name in print, she wrangled with publishers and biographers behind the scenes, writing what she could to support her family. She died in 1851, almost 30 years after her husband. In able if somewhat repetitive prose, novelist and biographer Seymour (Robert Graves, 1995, etc.) considers the personality of a woman who, having defied convention in youth, courted respectability for the rest of her life. Though won over by the poet's passions for sexual freedom and social justice, Mary was never a Shelleyan radical; she married Percy as soon as she could and always resented Claire’s presence in their ménage. Most biographers have considered how the events in Mary’s life fed the chronic sense of abandonment that Frankenstein’s Creature so magnificently expresses. Seymour prefers to emphasize Mary’s obsessive temperament and her guilt over the suicide of Percy’s first wife and over her own withdrawal from the poet before he died. Defending Mary’s later narrowness, Seymour points out the unhappiness of a life burdened throughout by financial distress and the distortions of celebrity. Aside from her political ideas and activities, which Seymour carefully tracks, Mary’s other intellectual interests are rather neglected. They are better addressed by Muriel Spark’s 40-year-old study and by more recent criticism, to which this work serves as a worthy complement.

An evocative, empathetic treatment of what was, in all senses of the word, a difficult life.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1702-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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