Book Reviews/Discussions

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

I was really looking forward to reading this book.  I love classic Hollywood movies and I had seen movies with Hedy Lamarr when none of my friends even knew who she was.  I was further thrilled several years ago, when I found out she was also an inventor. It was so cool! So, I thought the story would be great…sadly, Benedict took a fantastic story and made it into a bland dime a dozen romance novel. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

The writing was flat, the characters were dull, even Hedy, and the prose was laced with anachronisms.  If you are going to write historical fiction PLEASE do your research. I did not keep an exhaustive list, but the term “pimped out” was used, which would not have been used that way in the 1930s. 

We still managed to have a good discussion for our book club, but mostly because we discussed the real Hedy Lamarr, not the book. It is not actively bad, but it just wasn’t very good, and I would think that when one has source material as rich as Hedy Lamarr, Austria in the 1930s, Hollywood, and revolutionary communications technology, one could do better. The narrative was extremely limited by the author’s choice of first person point of view.  I think that was probably the most damaging mistake beyond the obvious lack of research for the dialogue. The use of so called symbolism was too heavy handed and ineffective. If the symbols are too overt, they lose meaning. I wish her editor had been more active and helped her to make better choices in her writing. I have also read Carnegie’s Maid by the same author and found it disappointing as well. I will not be reading future books by this author unless she ups her game significantly. I appreciate her desire to bring women’s stories to readers, but I would like to see the stories told with more skill and care.

If your book club chooses this one, here are some questions that might be of use to you:

  1. What did you think of Mrs. Kiesler’s explanation to Hedy about why she had been distant toward her?  Do you think it was believable? Why or why not? 
  2. Given the choices Hedy had, what do you think of the decisions she made: to marry Fritz? To escape? 
  3. Hedy was very brave in her escape from Austria, what aspect of her journey would you have liked to know more about in the book?
  4. Do you think the first person POV was effective in this novel?  Why or why not?
  5. What do you think about Fritz’s theory about money and power? How did that work out for him? 
  6. Did you think the “symbolism” of masks was effectively used in the novel? Why or why not?