May 15, 2020
Genre/Categories: Biographical Historical Fiction, First Lady, U.S. History
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And They Called it Camelot is an imagined and candid portrait of the life of first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) from the time of her engagement to (President) John F. Kennedy to after the death of Aristotle Onassis. In particular, it’s the story of a determined and dignified “Jackie O” picking up the pieces of her life and finding her voice over and over again.
How does the Camelot reference play out in the actual life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis?
Biographical Historical Fiction: It’s important when reading historical fiction about an actual historical figure to understand that the narrative is the author’s interpretation of the events and available resources. Timelines may be consolidated or tweaked and conversations are imagined unless journals or letters are available. Jackie O was an intensely private person who wanted to project a certain cultivated image. Living during a time when things could be kept quiet and under the radar was a definite advantage. Given the limited information on Jackie O, I think the author did a remarkable job of piecing together the available resources to create an imagined picture of Jackie’s thoughts and her motivations. I thoroughly enjoyed imagining her life as a fashion leader, devoted mother, and trusted partner.
If “imagining” causes concern when referring to history, it might be interesting to read a nonfiction biography as a companion title. I also think it’s helpful when reading historical fiction to check the author’s notes for an explanation of her work and writing decisions.
Motivations: The part of And They Called it Camelot that I enjoyed the most is thinking about why Jackie O makes the decisions she does. I appreciate how the author helps us understand the context of the times and how cultural expectations and Jackie’s own ambition plays a role in her actions. I was challenged to think about Jackie O as a survivor and pragmatist. I don’t think I would have handled her circumstances in the same way, but the author helps me understand the decisions from Jackie’s perspective. Getting inside the mind of women like Jackie helps me to understand and appreciate women of that generation in general. It’s easy for us to judge and think “I’d never do that” or “I’d never put up with that,” but the magic of literature is that we become Jackie for a time and everything makes sense from that perspective.
Character Traits: As much as I can not imagine putting up with a cheating husband or lack of privacy, I can still appreciate Jackie’s character traits: her ambition (even though so much of a woman’s ambition was realized through one’s husband at that time), her determination and grittiness, her pragmatism and ingenuity, her risk-taking, her patriotism, her commitment to family, and her leadership. I can report that the mental image I created of Jackie all these years is not the Jackie I think of now.
Biographical Historical Fiction or Nonfiction? Although fiction is entertaining, it can also be thought-provoking. However, if conjecture is not in your comfort zone, I might suggest a NF biography of the life of Jackie O. During the reading, I needed to remind myself repeatedly that this is not a memoir!
I recommend And They Called It Camelot for fans of biographical historical fiction, for readers who appreciate a behind-the-scenes look at a tough and determined woman, and for book clubs.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author, Stephanie Marie Thornton
Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with women from history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at http://www.stephaniethorntonauthor.com.
Have you read And They Called It Camelot or is it on your TBR?
Are you a fan of Jackie O?
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