Title: The President’s Lunch
Author: Jenny Bond
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publication Date: 29th July 2014
Rating: 2/5 stars
Robbed of her job by the Great Depression, the future looks bleak for Iris McIntosh – until a chance encounter with America’s spirited First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Propelled by Eleanor into the brilliant inner circle of the White House, Iris finds herself at the centre of momentous change … and her heart torn between two men. But her loyalty lies with a third: the complicated and charismatic President Roosevelt, who will ultimately force her to question everything she believes in.
A compelling story of politics and power, love and loss, set in one of the most exciting and cataclysmic periods of history.
I’m not a big reader of historical fiction, and when I do read it I tend to go for stories set in the ancient or medieval worlds. So it isn’t too surprising that I didn’t enjoy this book very much. In fact, I only picked it up because my local bookshop was hosting an evening event with the author.
While I cannot fault the historical element of the book – well-researched and indeed, very well put-together – the editing was poor, with the multiple spelling and grammatical errors severely limiting my reading enjoyment.
There were three narrative voices – a third-person omniscient narrator, a third-person account of Iris’ life at the White House and a first-person account from Mrs Nesbitt, the housekeeper, told thirty years later. Having listened to Bond speak about her book, I was disappointed that she didn’t expand on Mrs Nesbitt’s account, seeing as it was her story and articles which originally sparked the idea for the novel and the title. Indeed, she sounds like a very amusing woman, whose cooking skills weren’t quite up to White House standards – or President Roosevelt’s, a man apparently fond of his food. The novel calls her Eleanor Roosevelt’s revenge for FDR’s affair with Lucy Rutherford many years earlier. Instead, I felt that the three narrative voices were disjointed and reduced the story’s flow.
The book had a strong focus on relationships, mostly unconventional. Eleanor’s lesbian affair with Lorena Hickock, President Roosevelt’s extramarital affair with his secretary Missy LeHand, Monty Chapel’s homosexual tendencies, and Iris’ overlapping love affairs with two men. While it was refreshing to read an historical novel that embraced all types of relationships, I feel that there was a missed opportunity to reinforce Iris’ character as a polyamorous person, a relationship type which has only just started to come to public attention. It would have created a really strong connection between past and present, which I think this book needed to bring it up a notch.
Sadly, this was a disappointing read and I probably won’t be touching historical fiction for a while, or another of Jenny Bond’s books. However, her next book is about pirates so there is every chance I might get sucked back in!