Original date of publication: 2008
My edition: 2010 (Vitage)
Why I decided to read: discovered it browsing in Borders
How I acquired my copy: Borders gift card, November 2010
The subtitle of this book is “The story of Idina Sackville, who ran away to become the chief seductress of Kenya’s scandalous ‘Happy Valley’ set.” It’s true that Idina Sackville (a cousin of Vita Sackvile-West and the great-grandmother of the author) had a fascinating life; during her lifetime she “bolted” from five husbands and three children, settling down in Kenya. She wasn’t a particularly beautiful woman, but her sexual exploits were legendary, and she inspired characters for several books, namely the Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s novels.
The author, Frances Osborne, is a great-granddaughter of Idina; unfortunately, she imposes herself too much into Indina’s story. She also focuses too much on Idina’s sex life and not enough on Idina’s experiences in Kenya, which in itself is an interesting place and worthy of more than just a sketchy description. Because Idina is an ancestor of the author, I kept getting the feeling that she was trying to explain away or downplay Idina’s behavior. The salaciousness of Idina’s life eventually becomes tedious, as the reader begins to wonder what the point of it all was for Idina.
It seems as though Idina’s life was mostly comprised of social visits and the like, and the author gives monotonous details of what she did every day. And it’s not as though Idina ever saw the error of her ways or tried to redeem herself (except for perhaps trying to fix her fraught relationship with her elder son, David). There’s no moral to the story, no reason for me to feel any empathy with Idina, especially since she spent most of her life persuing what she thought was happiness and love. The Happy Valley set was made up of a bunch of unlikable characters, but the author tries to paint them in a rosy light. In addition, the author’s prose style is a bit choppy. I can see why she would want to write about Idina and her set, but maybe she was a bit too close to her subject matter to be really objective about it.