Thursday, February 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg

I received this book free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I’ve never read anything by or about Jack London, one of the most famous writers of the early twentieth century. I knew him primarily as the author of the novel Call of the Wild. Although I’d never felt particularly curious about his work, I was nevertheless eager to read a historical novel based on his wife.

The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg gives a fictional first person account of the life of Charmian Kittredge London. Devoted to her husband, Charmian acts as muse, secretary, editor, and enabler. The once athletic, handsome adventurer is now a gouty alcoholic suffering from kidney disease. Their once-passionate love life has faded into a near platonic literary partnership. Jack plays warped psychological games, pushing her towards other men then becoming furiously jealous, possibly in order to experience emotions that he can then use as inspiration for his writing.

Charmian is getting a bit tired of it all.

Nevertheless, she works tirelessly to maintain both the marriage and Jack’s career, even though the commitment stunts her own ambition. Charmian is strong, healthy, adventurous, and smart. The novel gives one the sense that Jack is dragging her down.

A turning point occurs when she and Jack meet Harry Houdini and his wife, Bess. Both being strong-willed women married to celebrities, Charmian and Bess bond, striking up a true friendship. Jack and Harry don’t hit it off as well. Their egos clash and they constantly engage in macho one-upmanship. It’s a bit one-sided though, since Houdini is at the top of his game, while Jack is fading into a caricature of his past self. But within the foursome, the strongest attraction is between Houdini and Charmian.

As her relationship with Jack suffers one too many traumas, Charmian takes comfort in the cautious, intriguing advances of Houdini. But what kind of relationship can she ever expect to have with a man in the world’s spotlight–a man married to a friend?

This is a beautiful book that takes us deep into the heart of a very conflicted woman, yearning to be loved and desperately in love with her husband, though with eyes wide open to his flaws.


  1. I love it when someone opens up the life of a little known character via an historical figure! Sounds like an intriguing read.

  2. Hallo, Hallo Ms Coventry,

    I'm arriving through the HistFic Reading Chall via Passages to the Past! :) I've been tracking my readerly wanderings for a few years but this year, I'm taking a more active pursuit of the challenge - happily visiting others who are reading stories of mutual interest or new titles I've not had the pleasure of discovering which might tempt me to seek out! :)

    I was on the blog tour for Mrs London, wherein I shared my conflicted thoughts about reading the story. I wanted to take a look at some of the reviews about this book and see what others felt as they read it, too.

    I definitely agree - Charmain was intricately complex but I simply did not overly warm to her as much as I had Zelda. I guess in the end, I felt empathy for the Houdini's, less inclined to read London's works (as his personality reminded so starkingly of Hemingway! wow!) and I just couldn't fully say this was a beloved read of mine as it really challenged me to finish it.

    I am thankful others are finding it as a wonderful love of theirs though - as that is what makes blogging about our reading lives such an enriching experience. We each react differently to different stories - some we love together, others we recognise aren't our cuppa tea.

  3. I keep reading good reviews of this book, and I asked for it from NetGalley but was turned down. Looks like I'll have to get it out of my own pocket!