Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Cover of Rodham

I’m not a reader of biographies, especially autobiographies. I don’t really know why as I enjoy lots of other non-fiction, I enjoy stories of people’s lives and reading about historical characters. I like it when real people turn up in fiction and I like books that are pretty much fictional autobiographies. But I would never have read an autobiography of Hillary Rodham Clinton. A book about what might have happened if Hillary hadn’t married Bill though, well, that sounded at least a bit interesting.

The beginning of the book starts before the timeline diverges from this world and it all felt a bit voyeuristic. Hillary and Bill meet at Yale Law School, they get together and move to Arkansas where Bill asks Hillary to marry him. Although a quick glance at Wikipedia shows me that this is how things happened it felt a bit creepy as I had no idea how much the author is drawing on real world sources (both Hillary and Bill have written memoirs of course) and how much is made up.

Once Hillary had said no to marriage and we got properly into the alternative timeline I was much happier with the book, and found it seemed better written as it went on. I liked the way some real world events got swizzled to fit the new timeline, you felt you were dealing with the same characters who took advantage of similar opportunities but the butterfly effect meant that everything played out in rather different ways. The closer the book got to the end the the more amusing these alternate versions of the world became. I was glad I was reading an e-book copy as I could quickly look up every political name mentioned and see whether the author was playing with real or made up characters (my conclusion, which might not be correct, was that the vast majority of the minor politician characters were real and the major characters you don’t already know by name were made up).

I’m not really sure that I’d recommend this book to anyone, it was a bit uneven, I’m glad I read it though. I was reading it as the 2020 US Presidential election was playing itself out and it made a good distraction, and it made me feel like a few small changes really might be enough to change the world.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Read on November 15, 2020

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