Tuesday, June 8, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache by Jenni L. Walsh

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache
by Jenni L. Walsh is a historical adventure following the escapades of Simone Jules a.k.a. Madame Eleanor Dumont a.k.a. Madame Moustache, a female croupier who made a name for herself in the American West during the Gold Rush era of the mid-nineteenth century. A real-life historical figure, Madame Moustache pops up here and there in the historical record and is known for popularizing the card game “twenty-one” or “vingt-et-un.”

Following a great personal tragedy, the young Simone Jules made her way from New Orleans to San Francisco in order to start anew. She left behind her old life, including a fiancé. Arriving in California, Simone discovered there were few options available to single women, aside from the obvious. But she was not interested in pursuing any of those careers. Rather she wanted to earn her keep by gambling, playing the card game her mother had taught her. Vingt-et-un was unfamiliar to the men of the city, primarily gold miners, and she was able to tap into the riches they were pulling from the ground.

Gold mining was a boom and bust occupation. Therefore, so was gambling. Simone had to pick up and move many times to follow the money, living in circumstances ranging from the dubious comforts of a thriving boomtown to the primitive settings of miners’ camps. Along the way, she loves and loses, and struggles with wanted and unwanted (mostly unwanted) attention from men.

The novel does a lovely job of making the world come alive and fitting it into the historical context of the day. It’s interesting to see a woman make an unconventional life for herself. Nevertheless, I never really connected with the protagonist, even though I admired her pluck. Her emotions were convincingly described, but I wasn’t moved by them. Maybe it’s because her strongest love was always for her card game. Even so, I recommend this novel for its careful portrayal of a nineteenth-century woman who was determined to live in a man’s world on her own terms.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this book. Very special, very different, and a woman I knew nothing about.