Book review: The Only Woman in the Room

The only woman in the roomThe Only Woman in the Room
by  Marie Benedict
Sourcebooks
1/8/2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
272 pages
Goodreads

***

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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HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
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.

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8 thoughts on “Book review: The Only Woman in the Room

  1. I want to read this. I saw Bombshell and it was truly an eye opener both for the way it displayed her intelligence and for the look at her somewhat fractured personality, but this book sounds like it shows the reasons for those fractures due to her early life. Great review.

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  2. Yes, I too learned about Hedy Lamarr’s invention of “spread spectrum technology”–frequency switching–which proved to be crucial in cell phones. A biography that gave that short shrift would not do her justice, although there is plenty to write about in her very eventful life and movie career. I love the book’s title, which certainly captures her head-turning beauty, remarkable in itself.

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  3. I am reading this one now and am at the halfway point. I disagree a bit with your comment that Benedict does not show Lamarr’s intelligence. She shows it in the recounting of the scientific and technical conversations Hedy overhears while entertaining. Hedy actually tells us herself how much she does understand and how she actively looks for gaps or weaknesses in the discussed technology so she can blackmail her husband into letting her leave. Everything she does later has origins in the information she learns while with Fritz, so it makes sense to me we would spend so much time with Hedy in Austria. Besides, we know her life in Hollywood. It is her early years which are less well-known.

    I am thoroughly enjoying the novel so far and look forward to each snippet of free time during which I can sneak in a few pages.

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    • My point was rather that she doesn’t trace her attraction to technology back to her childhood. And her curiosity was developed by her dad, who would explain to her how things worked, when she was a young child. It’s way before meeting Fritz. Also, if I recollect, it’s only afterwards in the book, in retrospect, that the author mentions the meals where she was listening to these conversations. But when she’s evoking the meals earlier in the book, she doesn’t

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