In Daisy Goodwin’s first novel, The American Heiress, the reader is transported to 1890s England with all of its style, frivolousness, etiquette and customs.
Cora Cash is the American Heiress, rich beyond belief and after the one thing her money has not yet provided, but can easily buy for her: a title. In a bizarre and truly predictable accident, she encounters and marries, Ivo, Duke of Wareham. Ivo’s family is in financial, and in many instances emotional, ruins. Ms. Cash arrives on the scene at the perfect moment. Ivo and Cora’s marriage is that of convenience, but as Cora will ultimately fight for, love as well. The novel presents her in many moments of doubt about whether her marriage is that of love or if she is merely tolerated for her money.
In the beginning, Cora is spoiled and naive to a point where she tends to grate on your nerves. She is accustomed to getting anything she wants with only a demand, never a request. The parties are lavish, over-the-top and in many instances, downright ridiculous. Throughout the novel, Cora is made fun of for her American heritage, her social status and her American customs. It is when the secrets begin to be uncovered that the story begins to take on some speed. The characters in the novel hint at the secrets and lies so blatantly that it is frustrating when Cora seems as though she doesn’t have a clue about them. But when she finally begins to see the truth about her marriage and status, we begin to see some of her true character. She is much stronger and rational than the girl presented at the beginning of the novel.
I’m torn with this novel. The American Heiress is a novel of frivolity and its consequences. It was a quick read with wonderful descriptions of England and the time period. Many scenes were filled with intricate and delicate details that draw you into the era. The novel is well written and organized. The characters are unique to each other. Some are well developed, while others are left shallow and undefined. However, the fact that Cora is (and maybe it is purposeful) oblivious to what those around her have made very obvious is a bit unnerving and frustrating. You really want to yell in her face and tell her to smarten up a bit. It may have been the intent of Goodwin to have the reader react in this manner and if that is the case, she was quite successful.
Many reviews criticize the ending of this novel and I feel that in the end, Cora was presented with a decision that many would have handled differently. However, how she handled her fate was within the bounds of her character. While I would not actively search out this novel, The American Heiress is extremely readable and worth the time if it ever lands on your night table.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.