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Lady Clementine

Review

Lady Clementine

Once again, bestselling author Marie Benedict turns her keen, sharp eye to one of history’s most famous and intriguing women --- Clementine Churchill, the wife of Winston Churchill, the great historic figure who led Britain to victory during World War II. As controversial, complex and larger than life as Winston’s legacy looms in our minds, it was Clementine who was his secret weapon, guiding him through not only personal relationships, but military strategies and political endeavors as well. In LADY CLEMENTINE, Benedict shines a light on the woman behind the man, proving to us that behind every great man is an even greater woman.

The novel begins on the morning of Clementine’s wedding to Winston. She is only 23 years old, and though her family holds some noble titles, Winston’s stardom is already on the rise, and the social and economic disparities between the two worry Clementine --- or, as Winston calls her, Clemmie. Looking back, Clementine recounts her courtship with Winston, a love affair marked not by roses and candlelight but by a sparring of equally matched and impressively open minds. The two are simply dazzled by one another, and although Winston is far her senior, he makes it clear that he has never met a woman quite as brilliant, strong and steadfast as his Clemmie.

"I am always amazed at the seemingly effortless way in which Benedict embodies her subjects, and LADY CLEMENTINE is no exception; in fact, it may be her best book yet."

Their marriage coincides with some impressive career moves for young Winston, but even more impressive is the ease with which Clementine slides into political life. She is not only the wife of a nobleman with a strong lineage, but an agile and deft planner of parties, career changes and interpersonal relationships, something that Winston himself struggles with. Where Clementine is expected to be supportive and intuitive, she is, but she is so much more than that: in addition to hosting fellow members of state at lavish cocktail parties, she doubles as Winston’s partner in speech writing and preparing. When he strikes the wrong note, she has no trouble explaining how and why --- but even better, he has no issue taking her advice to heart, which may surprise those who know Winston Churchill only by his Bulldog persona.

As the first World War looms over the horizon, Winston’s keen eye and ability to track political partnerships reveals itself to be intuitive, smart and constantly on watch. But at the same time, his politics seem to be shifting somewhat. Clementine, who fell in love with the controversial young liberal, begins to wonder who the man next to her really is, with his obsession with naval power and glory. Those who are familiar with Winston’s politics and party-switching will find this side of him fascinating --- to see how his changing and dissonant mind affects not only his public persona but also his personal one is totally illuminating. And still, it is Clementine who is the star.

Of course, there can be no book about Clementine and Winston without commentary on their union --- a love bound by intellect, moral compatibility, and a deep and admiring friendship. Though romance is not the focus of LADY CLEMENTINE, I found the passages exploring the depths of their love to be some of the most moving. Their union was one that stood the test not only of time, but of their own tempers, faults and the pressures put upon them by their beloved country. Benedict does not shy away from revealing Clementine and Winston’s riffs and bouts of anger, but she does so with a tenderness and compassion that she has brought to all of her books --- and it is this quality that makes them so compulsively readable and enjoyable.

The Clementine portrayed in Benedict’s stellar book is a woman of tremendous fortitude. She is smart, opinionated, devoted and, above all, independent. Even when Winston becomes Prime Minister and her life is on display as never before, Clementine continues to push the boundaries of what women in her time are expected to do, including getting involved with the war movement. But the Clementine who Benedict shares with us is not only a political powerhouse --- she is a mother constantly worried that she is not doing enough for her children, a wife who carefully watches women with devious intentions, and a woman who struggles with bouts of sadness and hopelessness just like the rest of us.

That Benedict can so expertly expose and unpack every side of this incredible woman is not unexpected, as her novels about famous female figures have all been outstanding. But she truly pushes herself here, covering a broader range of time than ever before, and writing about two wars, a changing Britain and everything in between. I am always amazed at the seemingly effortless way in which Benedict embodies her subjects, and LADY CLEMENTINE is no exception; in fact, it may be her best book yet.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 10, 2020

Lady Clementine
by Marie Benedict

  • Publication Date: January 7, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
  • ISBN-10: 1492666904
  • ISBN-13: 9781492666905