Awarded four stars on Goodreads but that is a bit generous since this book is much more interesting as historical fiction about surviving the sinking of The Titanic, than it is about the second Mrs. Astor. Because while it does center around the story of Madeleine Talmage Force Astor’s short first marriage to John “Jack” Jacob Astor IV, it doesn’t provide much insight into what was THE scandalous marriage of their era.
For anyone who may not know, Madeleine is now chiefly remembered as the pregnant, child-bride of one of the richest men in America and as one of the most famous of the 710 survivors of The RMS Titanic — which sank when the couple was traveling back to New York following their lengthy honeymoon.
When Jack Astor first became enamored with Madeleine, she was 17 years old. He was 46 and recently divorced from his first wife, Ava Lowle Willing Astor. By all historical accounts Madeleine was a beautiful and intelligent young woman, fresh out of finishing school. Ah, the stuff of which soap operas are made!
BUT, if you, like me, want answers to some reasonable questions….
• What specifically made Madeleine so distinctive when compared with other girls her age?
• How could Jack and Madeleine form a connection, across a 29 year age difference?
• Why shouldn’t we see Jack’s pursuit of Madeleine as just another middle aged man inappropriately lusting after an underage girl?
If you want answers to questions like these you won’t find them in this book.
Instead you’ll get a somewhat interesting glimpse into courting rituals among the rich and powerful in the early 20th century. You’ll get a taste of how high society operated at the time, including their reaction to the stigmas of divorce and re-marriage. There are details about the Astor’s honeymoon trip which are fairly boring. And then, toward the end, you’ll get a fairly suspenseful narrative about that 1912 night the Titanic sank.
It’s an easy read with no heavy lifting. If you’re interested in the subject matter, you’ll sail through this novel.
Here’s a link, if you want to know more about Madeleine’s life, especially AFTER the Titanic disaster.
More about the author, Shana Abé.