As a historical fiction fan, I was super happy to get the chance to read The Secret Life of Mrs London, by Rebecca Rosenberg. Here’s the scoop:
San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.
As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.
In the last few years I have read a fair few novels based around the wife/mistress/sister of a famous historical figure. Here are just some I could mention:
It’s a great idea – a way to explore a famous life through the eyes of the person closest to them, and to look at the pleasures – and sometimes perils – of living with and loving someone who is highly driven and creative. So how would this one stack up? Well, for me, The Secret Life of Mrs London can take a place on the shelf next to any of these. It has all the same hallmarks of great writing, engaging characters, relationship drama and a vibrant evocation of a different time and place.
Mrs London, Charmain, is a complex character. She loves Jack London but feels her own writing is lost in the tide of his success, his reliance on her as his secretary and his ambitions to build a California mansion, Wolf House. Jack also maintains separate sleeping quarters, leaving Charmain sexually frustrated and open to temptation. This comes in the form of handsome Harry Houdini, another fascinating character, who brings with him into Charmain’s life, his child-like wife, Bess.
The Secret Life of Mrs London is a warm, engaging portrait of a woman struggling to find herself. Like the best of these ‘wife’ stories, although my initial attraction for picking them up is find out more about the famous name, as a reader, I stay for the wife’s story. Charmain struggles to put herself first. She has to remind herself that this is her life, even as she fears being “nothing without Jack.” How she succeeds and/or fails had me totally gripped. Highly recommended.
About the Author:
California native Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where she and her husband founded the largest lavender product company in America, Sonoma Lavender. A long-time student of Jack London’s work and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian, Rosenberg is a graduate of the Stanford Writing Certificate Program. THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON is her first novel, following her non-fiction, LAVENDER FIELDS OF AMERICA.
Rebecca Rosenberg’s next historical novel is GOLD DIGGER the story of BABY DOE TABOR.
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