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Interesting but banal
on September 26, 2013
This is the story of Alice de Janze who grew up with riches, had 2 husbands and led a sybaritic and useless life mostly in Kenya during the time of the "Happy Valley" set. The book flows beautifully which makes it a very interesting read. I had just recently finished reading "White Mischief" by James Fox which prompted me to read this book immediately so that I could get a better sense of what she was like. The author of "The Temptress" certainly appears to have done quite a bit of research and that shows throughout. One gets a real sense of the meaningless lives led by the wealthy British living in Kenya at that time -- far removed from the social mores and restrictions in Europe, they created their own "rules" of behavior which leaned heavily on a decadent and morally loose lifestyle. This book beautifully conveys how Kenya was during that time -- unspoiled, undeveloped, and inexpensive (I am aware, of course, that the indigenous population didn't have it so good once these settlers arrived but that is another story in itself).
On the down-side, I have to agree with other reviewers in that, Alice's life was not "scandalous", nor was she conveyed as any type of "temptress". The title of the book is misleading. Yes, she was involved in one scandal during her lifetime (of her own making) but the rest of her life was lived the same as any other rich, debauched, attractive socialite during that time. The women (and men) who comprised Happy Valley were all like that. Nothing new.
Also, the author took liberties in diagnosing Alice as bi-polar without any backup or evidence that she had even seen a doctor(s) regarding her supposed depression(s).
The author also had a tendency to state what she was feeling at certain times again without any evidence. In my opinion, authors, when writing biographies, should never attempt to state what their subject is feeling unless they have proof.
Lastly, the author's grandmother, Margaret Spicer, was one of the first friends that Alice made when she arrived in Kenya. Because of this, it is my opinion, that the author walked very gingerly in his writing perhaps not to cause distress to his grandmother or her memory. He always made "excuses" for Alice because of her mental state. For goodness sake, the woman LEFT her 2 children forever in the hands of her first husband's family so that she could trample off to Kenya so that SHE could be happy; she almost killed her 2nd husband; and she never stopped having an affair with Joss Erroll who was married to one of her best friends.
I walked away from this book having no sympathy for the subject and, in fact, not really liking her or those around her. I attribute that to the times she lived in, the social mores of those times, and that large amounts of money and no useful purpose in life do fry people's brains.