The Kennedys all kept journals, and Byrne (Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, 2014, etc.) uses them to the fullest in this biography of Kathleen, aka Kick (1920-1948).
In the first half of the book, the author relies heavily on those journals, and the narrative occasionally gets bogged down in Kick’s lists of people she met, what she wore, and where she went. Thankfully for readers, she met the most famous people, wore the most beautiful clothes, and went to all the best parties. Byrne highlights the importance of Kick’s close attachment and similar character to her brother, Jack, nearest to her in age. Her father, Joseph, was named ambassador to the Court of St. James, mostly to get him out of Franklin Roosevelt’s hair. He and his family were loved and celebrated all over England, and the English men adored Kick. She encouraged them all without any intention of forming a deeper relationship—until she met Billy Cavendish, heir to the dukedom of Devonshire, which included Chatsworth and castles in Ireland, Scotland, Yorkshire, and Sussex. Joe Kennedy’s statement that the British Empire was at an end and could never withstand Hitler put an end to his ambassadorship as well as his career. The story gets most interesting as Kick and Billy fall in love and face their insurmountable religious differences. The original Duke of Devonshire set the familial pattern of hatred of Catholics. The author follows the war years in which the couple searched for loopholes. She could never give up her faith, and Billy had the responsibility of many Church of England parish benefices. The story is heartrending as Kick returns to the U.S., Billy gets engaged to another, and the war rages on.
At first, the book is less a biography and more a society report of England’s upper class, but it evolves into an exciting, heartbreakingly tense love story.