The Only Woman in the Room
by Marie Benedict
Genre: Historical Fiction
I discovered Marie Benedict at BEA when it was set in Chicago a few years ago, and really enjoyed The Other Einstein, as well as Carnegie’s Maid. So I just decided to read The Only Woman in the Room, without knowing anything about her subject. Surprise!
And I realized it was a historical novel based on the life of Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, aka Hedy Lamarr! Whom I actually didn’t know much about.
I have to say, I’m actually a bit disappointed by the book.
It definitely has great dimensions, especially when it describes the pre- and first years of the rising of the Nazis in Germany, Austria, and Italy. And how Hedy’s first marriage was almost like an old days alliance, to assure her Jewish family would be on the safe side. But the personality of her rich husband is going to introduce dramatical changes in Hedy’s life and theatrical career.
And those changes were well presented, showing the totally claustrophobic side of her new situation. And what she had to resort to in order to survive and reinvent herself and become the famous actress we now know.
One element we don’t know for sure about Hedy is the adoption of a boy. Based on the context, I thought Benedict’s idea made sense.
Now, totally by chance, I happened to see at my public library a graphic “novel” presenting the biography of the same person: Hedy Lamarr, An Incredible Life, by William Roy and Sylvain Dorange.
And when I told my husband what I was reading, he suggested we watch the movie on her life: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.
These two other works made me realize Benedict’s book was not really balanced: about 60% of the book pertain to her life in Austria before her escape! Knowing all that comes after, I think too many pages were dedicated to just these few years.
Plus, in all these pages pertaining to the first part of Hedy’s life, the author does not mention Hedy’s curious and scientific mind. So it comes out of nowhere when she finally gets to come up with inventions based on her discovery of frequency hopping in Hollywood.
Both the graphic novel I read and the movie I watched show how this aspect of her mind was developed very early on. She was already trying inventing things when she was 5, inspired by her father who would explain to her how things around her worked, such as tramways, for instance.
I think Marie Benedict should have better situated this major aspect of her character within the context of her early development. For me, that would have even more highlighted the dichotomy the author tries to show, between the popular image we have of Hedy’s beautiful face and body, while totally disregarding her intelligence.
Bombshell is extremely well done. It’s actually based on an oral interview of Hedy in her older days, a recording that had been considered lost for many years.
The graphic novel has all the qualities missing in Marie Benedict’s historical novel. I don’t like the artwork 100%, because I’m picky and prefer very clean lines in drawing and painting, but it’s good enough and you can certainly recognize many faces.
VERDICT: The Only Woman in the Room is a good historical novel, focusing a lot on the Nazi period. If you want a broader and more accurate presentation of Hedy Lamarr’s Life, I suggest for once the graphic novel or a movie: Bombshell.
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Any good historical novel you read recently?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge from the publisher through Netgalley. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.