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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lady Idina Sackville's Exciting and Sad Life
"You don't want to be known as `the Bolter's granddaughter'," warned Frances Osborne's mother. Osborne was the Bolter's great-granddaughter, and the mother was worried about how people might have spoken about herself. The thirteen-year-old Osborne had come across a photograph of the ravishing Lady Idina Sackville, and wanted to know more, for the existence of the...
Published on July 30, 2009 by R. Hardy

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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Idina's Heart of Darkness
By chance, I picked this book up at the library along with Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa. The setting for each story is Africa in the 20th century, but the women at the heart of these two books couldn't be more different.

Idina Sackville is The Bolter. Five times married, and endlessly unfaithful and decadent, this woman,...
Published on July 29, 2009 by N. B. Kennedy


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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lady Idina Sackville's Exciting and Sad Life, July 30, 2009
This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
"You don't want to be known as `the Bolter's granddaughter'," warned Frances Osborne's mother. Osborne was the Bolter's great-granddaughter, and the mother was worried about how people might have spoken about herself. The thirteen-year-old Osborne had come across a photograph of the ravishing Lady Idina Sackville, and wanted to know more, for the existence of the scandalous Idina was a dark family secret. "My mother was right to be cautious: Idina and her blackened reputation glistened before me. In an age of wicked women she had pushed the boundaries of behavior to extremes." And thus Osborne was set on years of research, looking into family troves of diaries and letters, as well as society newspaper stories, and conducting interviews of those who knew Idina. Now in _The Bolter_ (Knopf), she has given a biography of the highly-spirited, sad woman whom she never knew. It is sort of a family biographical exorcism, but the book stands well on its own, as a portrait of Idina as well as of the heady times which were her heyday. There is mischievous fun here, and great sadness as well, and the charming and flawed Idina could not have gotten a more sympathetic evaluation.

In 1913, Idina made what has to be considered a conventional marriage to Euan Wallace, a cavalry officer and a millionaire heir. They were blissfully rich, and at least initially were blissful in other ways. "Idina completed her introduction to sex: an activity for which she discovered she had a talent, but which she clearly found so intensely enjoyable that it rapidly became impossible for her to resist any opportunity for it." She was quickly pregnant, and bore Wallace two sons. The couple were busy with a social life in London, and building a mansion in Ayrshire. Then came World War I, and Wallace fought right through it. He did come home on leave, and the reunions were good, except that Idina was ill and could not keep up with Euan's socializing. He fell for another woman, and she determined she would not stand for that sort of abandonment without taking her own lovers. When she fell for Charles Gordon, Euan confronted her, insisting that she had to give up the affair or to divorce. She bolted with Gordon, and in so doing, abandoned her young sons, with whom she would have no contact until they were adults. Gordon was her introduction to British East Africa, later Kenya, where she would live on and off for the rest of her life. Her third marriage was to a sexual equal, Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll, who was eight years her junior. Both of them enjoyed having a variety of sexual partners and needed the variety. People who came to parties at their plantation could not just come for an evening; it was a trek to get there, so the gatherings went on for days. Guests could expect to find pajamas and a bottle of whiskey ready on their pillows on arrival. Joss, a teetotaler, filled everyone else's glass and Idina served as the mistress of ceremonies which included games of chance to determine who would bed whom for a particular night. Idina bore Joss her third and final child, a daughter, but he became devoted to another woman and the marriage ended. There were fourth and fifth marriages, and divorces. Idina was to have many other trials. She met both her sons when they were young men. She was charming to them, and they were generous toward her, and she was grateful. Euan died in 1940 of cancer, only 48 years old, and though they had not had contact in decades, she felt the loss. Both the sons with whom she had begun to share affection died during the Second World War. Josslyn Hay was murdered under scandalous circumstances. A reconciliation with the daughter who had been raised by an aunt was cut short by Idina's own death. She died of cancer at age 62, a portrait of Euan at her bedside.

In addition to giving a full picture of Idina's life, Osborne has skillfully described such things as the protocol of Edwardian England, British colonialism in Africa, the accepted standards for adultery, and the grounds for divorce. Idina became memorialized in fiction; she was the model for The Bolter in the novels of Nancy Mitford, and was the model for Iris Storm in Michael Arlen's novel _The Green Hat_. The real Bolter, Osborne shows, had a provocative, exuberant, and eventually sad life that defies imagination. It is good to have this heartfelt biography of the original, a woman who dreamed of a better life and worked to make it happen, and sadly failed. "Whenever she reinvented her life with a new husband," Osborne pointedly writes, "she believed that, this time round, she could make it happen. Yet that better life remained frustratingly out of reach."
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blue Blooded Naughtiness, July 21, 2009
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This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
In writing The Bolter Frances Osborne confronted and dealt with some fascinating albeit unsavory details from her family background. Her great grandmother was Lady Idina Sackville, known as The Bolter in London high society in the 1920s and 1930s due to her string of love affairs, flirtations, and five husbands. Osborne has done a fine job of tracing and telling the story of her ancestress in the context of her times.

Lady Idina Sackville was born into an unconventional family. Her parents separated shortly after her birth, and Idina and her sister and brother lived a life of material plenty but emotional shortages. Idina married for the first time at 20, divorced for the first time at 25, and then embarked on a string of love affairs and marriages, none of which lasted for more than a few years. Despite having less money than most aristocrats, she managed to live in luxury in Britain and in Kenya and maintained a reputation for well dressed elegance and panache.

Osborne does a good job explaining the ins and outs of her great-grandmother's life, using diaries and letters as well as newspaper accounts of her doings. She never really gives as good a sense of what the five husbands were like, with the possible exceptions of the first and third, except for the general observation that all of them were just as emotionally needy and rambunctious as Idina herself. There's also quite a bit of interesting information about Kenya in its days as a British colony, when it served as a rendezvous or hide out for aristocrats who wished to lead a more colorful life than was possible back home.

Lady Idina and most of her husbands, friends, and lovers were intelligent people who ought to have led fuller, more praiseworthy lives. Their story is both interesting and cautionary.
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50 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making sense of a decadent life, June 20, 2009
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This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
Book review: The Bolter by Frances Osborne
[...]
The author's intelligent Youtube promo parallels the span of this fascinating book: modern sensibilities stretching the boundries of old guard traditional values, encompassing all with as much reason as abandon.

The book well answers our appalled collective gasp of- how could these real life characters act so?

Those of us who were adolescents or young adults in the 1960's will have no recourse but to identify with the decadent counter-culture within the times profiled in this book. Also, I myself have been to Kenya and understand firsthand its incredible sway.

For the rest, all material whether emotional or historical, no matter how exuberant or painful for subject or reader, is well explained within its context, in Osborne's eminently readable prose.

Thus the book is best for two types of readers: completists of the Happy Valley, Kenya goings on via James Fox' "White Mischief" or Errol Trzebinski's parallel tome, and everyone else in the world with an interest in social history of the first half of the 20th century via well-heeled (and occasionally just heels) Brits and Brit expats.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bolter, March 14, 2009
A most entertaining book, extremely well written and researched. The Bolter is the author's great grandmother, although she of course never met her and was only told about her when she was in her early teens. However she become fascinated with Dina's story and somehow has managed to find almost all the details of her life and some very good pictures, which she has made into this fascinating book. Dina was married five times and had three children. She came to live in Kenya after divorcing her first husband, and then spent most of the rest of her life there, living a very `racy' lifestyle, and entertaining her many friends to drink and drug fuelled weekends. She became known as the leader of the `Happy Valley' set, which was the valley where her farm was, in a mountainous area far from Nairobi.

As her story unfolds, one gets more and more sympathetic to Dina and her unusual lifestyle. She became very depressed as she approached middle-age with no close family ties, although she did start to get to know one of her sons just before he was killed and renewed her friendship with her married daughter. The final blow for her, which she never recovered from, was when her first husband and both her sons died within a short time of each other. She herself died about ten years later.

A riveting unputdownable book, especially if you know the country and the people there that are mentioned, as I do.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Idina's Heart of Darkness, July 29, 2009
This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
By chance, I picked this book up at the library along with Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa. The setting for each story is Africa in the 20th century, but the women at the heart of these two books couldn't be more different.

Idina Sackville is The Bolter. Five times married, and endlessly unfaithful and decadent, this woman, descended from British aristocracy and a cousin of author Vita Sackville-West, lived a dissolute life amongst the "Happy Valley" crowd of Kenya in the early to mid-1900s. Drugs, drinking and bed-hopping seemed to be their only diversions in life. Most came to unhappy ends.

The author of this book, Idina's great-granddaughter, does her best to explain away Idina's appalling behavior, which includes deserting her children. Ms. Osborne couldn't convince me, though, that Idina's life choices had anything to do with her father's abandonment and her first husband's wandering eye. Morality just seemed to have no place in this woman's character.

It's a book to skim, as the details are piled high and not chosen for their value. Here's a typical passage: "On 21 March 1918 Idina took a late-lunchtime train from Brighton to London. She reached Victoria just after three, hailed a taxi, and arrived at Connaught Place half an hour later to discover that Euan had wired from Folkestone at one. One of their household servants, driving the Calcott, had already left to pick him up from Victoria, giving Idina just a few minutes to do her face and conceal how ill she was still feeling."

Whose life is worth this kind of scrutiny or reportage? Not Idina Sackville's, that's for sure. I would recommend reading Wildflower instead. Joan Root had her own sorrow-filled life and horrendous death, but at least her life as a wildlife filmmaker and ardent conservationist had purpose. The contrast between the two women makes it all the more sad to read of lives robbed of meaning by hedonism.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Secrets from the Attic, April 1, 2010
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Suzanne (Middleburg, VA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
Bottom Line: A granddaughter interprets "Happy Valley" like nobody else can--but Judith Thurman's book is still best in class.

Setting: Interwar London and colonial Kenya, 1920s. It's Great White Hunter territory. Frances Osborne interviews elite and reclusive sources, publishes new photographs, interprets heirloom artifacts and recounts family lore to write this solid biography of her wayward aristocratic forebear, Idina Sackville, a sexual adventurer dubbed "high priestess of the Happy Valley Set."

For readers interested in the "Out of Africa" period, this is a book that should be added to the library shelf.

But it only made me long to go back and reread the classic in this genre: Judith Thurman's superb biography of Isak Dinesen. I also recommend "West with The Night," a collection of autobiographical tales by Beryl Markham, to round out the picture of colonial decadence, changing fortunes, social upheaval and true-grit pioneering that characterizes the time and place.

There's a lot of tragedy in Idina's story and not much triumph. The greatest triumph is the balanced acheivement of the biographer, Frances Osborne, and I look forward to more of her work.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Bolter-Not for Everyone, July 4, 2009
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Suzanne Oberlin (marin county, CA.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
If one is a fan of British Upper Class society in the 1st half of the 20th c., this book will have appeal. It follows the life of a woman who constantly seeks love and permanence which eluded her in her youth. There are wonderful descriptions of Kenya during the British colonial period between 1920-1955. Having been written by a granddaughter who had access to diaries and letters, many acquaintances and dalliances are correctly named and described--juicy tidbits for those of us who enjoy it!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh, Great Grandma, and what sharp teeth you have..., September 22, 2008
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S. J. K. Haley (Columbus, OH United States) - See all my reviews
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Everything about this book is intrguing, from its topic and story to the relationship of the author to the woman that the book is about.

In The Bolter, author Frances Osborne tells the story of her great-grandmother, Lady Idina Sackville, a women who married privledge only to feel stiffled by it. Feeling trapped, she bolts (hence the title) the marriage and divorces her husband, agrees never to see her young sons again, and goes to Africa to live a Bohemian life style, ripe with intrigue, freewheeling sex and other adventures that a lady of good breeding may dream about, but would never entertain if she valued her family.

But thats what makes this such a juicy ride. Osborne's great grandmother is driven to lead a reckless wild life with few regrets. While she does eventually meet her young adult sons, the meeting is just that, not a reunion, but a bit of a reality check; it reminded me of one of those forced meetings between a child and one of their parents friends - forced pleasantries and uncomfortable interests, but its brilliantly written.

Of course one of the greatest ironies is that Osbourne is married to a Tory Member of Parliament, and she's written a very torrid account of Sackville.

So this reviewer HIGHLY recommends this book
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating topic needs a more talented writer, February 1, 2010
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This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
This is the story of Idina Sackville, daughter of an earl and cousin of writer Vita Sackville-West. Lady Idina was married and divorced five times and is said to be the model for the "Bolter" character in Nancy Mitford's novel THE PURSUIT OF LOVE. Idina was first married at just 20 to Euan, a dashing young cavalry officer who was also one of the wealthiest men in Britain. After only a few months of marriage, Euan was off to fight in WW1.

Idina and her husband were very much part of the Bright Young Things set, in which casual adultery was the norm and life was a nonstop party. Even during the war, Euan managed to get leaves every few months and live it up in Paris and back in England and Scotland. The separations of the war and the philandering broke up the marriage and Idina decided to move to Kenya (then British East Africa) with a new husband and become a farmer there, which was being encouraged by the government's giveaway or cheap sale of huge tracts of land. She left behind her two young sons to the care of her husband and his new wife.

In Kenya, Idina took her farming and her social life very seriously. She was the leader of the hard-partying "Happy Valley" set that became notorious for its drinking, sexual escapades and even drug addiction. Idina mixed with the likes of Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Beryl Markham and Denys Finch-Hatton.

I picked up this book because Nancy Mitford's THE PURSUIT OF LOVE is one of my favorites and I was interested to read about the world of the Bright Young Things and the colonial set. While the glimpse into that life was interesting, Idina's story was just plain depressing. Idina's life was like that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and thinking the outcome will be different. Every marriage was the same round of dissipation that ended when one or the other ran off with a new partner. She realized too late that she wanted to be close to her children and their families.

This book was written by Idina's great granddaughter, who knew nothing about Idina until she was grown up. The writing is a little on the dull side. Often it just read like a series of events. I think the story might have been better told by a more experienced author; maybe one without any family relationship. Worth reading if you are particularly interested in this subject.
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24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Airplane Reading, July 5, 2009
This review is from: The Bolter (Hardcover)
Frances Osborne's "The Bolter" is a diverting read, but only within the limited context of its subject matter. After all, is Idina Sackville a particularly interesting character? I think not. She struck me as a dime-a-dozen hedonist and degenerate, who managed to convince herself that her lifestyle was sophisticated and worldly, when it was in fact empty and ghastly. If she were around today, she'd be appearing in amateur porno movies and posting them on the Internet. And the same is true of the whole Happy Valley set. What base and dreary people.

If Osborne had taken a more jaundiced approach, she might have succeeded in painting a deservedly acid portrait of these upper-crust vulgarians. Instead, Osborne has allowed her blood relationship with Idina to corrupt her as a writer. Osborne's portrayal of her relative and the tiresome creeps in her orbit has been romanticized; worse -- softened, sweetened, and sentimentalized to a sickly degree. Quick, somebody, an insulin shot!

An excellent book on these delusional dolts is "White Mischief", by James Fox, which focuses on the fascinating mystery of the murder of Lord Erroll. I believe the book is out of print. A pity, because it's incomparably superior to "The Bolter".
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The Bolter
The Bolter by Frances Osborne (Paperback - May 4, 2010)
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