Book Reviews

Private Life by Jane Smiley

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List Price: £7.99

 

Paperback: 496 Pages.

Published: 03 March 2011 by Faber & Faber

Edition: Main

ISBN: 0571258751

EAN: 9780571258758

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at twenty-seven when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He's the most famous man their Missouri town has ever produced: a naval officer and an astronomer-a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margaret's mother calls the match "a piece of luck."

Yet Andrew confounds Margaret's expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in San Francisco, and soon she realizes that his devotion to science leaves little room for anything, or anyone, else. She stands by him through tragedies both personal and those they share with the nation. But as World War II approaches, Andrew's obsessions take a darker turn, forcing Margaret to reconsider the life she'd so carefully constructed.

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

A marriage that diminishes

This is a very sad book. Margaret marries, in the 1920s and submerges her own personality and dreams in her husband and his scientific work. It is her role to encourage and support him and society will treat her always as inferior to the man in her relationship. As the book progresses you wonder if Margaret will ever break free of her boring and fulfilling marriage especially as we see lots of other more successful relationships in her family and those around her. Her husband becomes more and more eccentric and as he becomes embroiled in controversy for his views we also begin to realise that he is completely wrong in what he believes and he becomes an outcast in the scientific community - there is no longer any meaning at all in Margaret's life and she slowly begins to realise what the reader has always known that she was brighter and better than her partner.

This is a story about life as it was lived for so many women in the twentieth century and it completely captures the situation where all your worth is contingent on the accomplishments of a man. Margaret is the prisoner of her upbringing and of society but it is often frustrating to read about her because she makes no effort at all to break free although it is difficult to know how she could.

This is a short book and a very thoughtful one. It is the description of a life that may well be recognised by a certain age of women who grew up in the early twentieth century.

 
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