Daisy Goodwin’s American Heiress is the story of young Cora Cash, the wealthiest socialite in all of Newport just itching to escape the endless parade of social-climbing antics of her overbearing mother. As was common of wealthy Americans in the late 19th century, Cora’s parents move to England in order to secure their wealthy daughter the only thing that has escaped them: an English title, and therefore, respectability. It is there during a foxhunt with friends on a neighboring estate that Cora happens upon Ivo, the Duke of Wareham. Well, correction: She is so startled by the sounds of sex in the nearby woods where she is riding alone that she fails to notice a low-hanging branch. She hits her head and when she comes to, her heroic Duke is there to save her. Of course, hitting one’s head on a tree branch requires a young lady to rest and recover for a lengthy amount of time. Plenty (if you ask Mrs. Cash) to get the Duke to fall in love and propose.
This was my book club’s February selection and unfortunately, at least the second or third in a row that left me feeling “meh.” The book runs to around 480 pages give or take. It felt even longer than that because really…NOTHING HAPPENS. The writing isn’t terrible, and some of the characters are charming or in the very least, interesting. There’s the conniving wealthy American mother, the conniving English mother-in-law, the conniving possibly former lover of the Duke, and the conniving former lover of our heroine Cora. Cora’s maid has only a mildly interesting side plot with the Duke’s valet.
I think the trouble I have with Goodwin’s book is one of unmet expectations and an inability to classify, to its detriment. Judging from the description on Goodreads I half expected an historical romance novel. The cover implied literary fiction. The jacket description implied historical fiction. I didn’t feel that Goodwin’s book really stuck to any of these genres and that was probably its greatest failure (aside from the lack of plot). If it had some will-they/won’t-they teasing and some tastefully described love-making, along with some sort of threat to the safety of the heroine, then I’d have thought this would be a new romance writer to which I should pay attention. There was no doubt from the beginning of their meeting that Cora and Ivo would end up together, neither for the reader nor the couple in the book. The writing isn’t terrible but it’s fairly straightforward and ham-fisted with its foreshadowing, so it fails to be literary. And since this isn’t about a true Duke, just a general concept that happened as the English aristocracy waned and the American first class gained ground, it didn’t hold much interest as historical fiction either.
Back to the ham-fisted part; I knew from the very beginning what would be the major ‘conflict’ of this story and it took our plucky heroin 400-some pages to figure it out. That’s a long time to wait. Cora herself is pretty interesting and naïve, so it’d have been nice to see her take a different turn than she did at the end. Overall this book is okay I guess, I just won’t be seeking out anything further from Goodwin unless someone I trust convinces me it’s ok.