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I have given this book 3 out of 4 stars. If I could have given it 3.5 stars, I would have, but that wasn't possible. I don't, off hand, know if I have watched a film with Hedy Lamarr in it, I may have done, but none comes to mind. Likewise, her physical appearance doesn't come to mind either...a bit before my time maybe? Although, the book was well researched and interesting in parts, there were other parts that seem to go on and on, if only I could have taken those parts out, or squashed them together, the book wouldn't have suffered from the midway slump that it did.
This is a good story, which whilst I enjoyed reading it in some parts, I was left lacking information at points in the book and certainly at the end. There were so many opportunities to elaborate the story line and build more impact and character information. I do think this will make a great movie, which would benefit from additional information. It was an okay read but I’d have loved to have enjoyed it, especially as it was based on a true story.
I preordered this book because I knew a little bit about the real Hedy Keisler. However I regret the choice of the author to write in 1st person voice. I couldn’t help wondering what the real Hedy said and thought. I found the story interesting, especially the early part about the relationship with her mother and father, as well as her teenage marriage to the fabulously wealthy Fritz Mandl. I actually was disturbed by her parents willingness to use her fame/ notoriety to “protect” them in the event Austria fell to Hitler. The book showed me Lamar's steely determination, even at the age of 19. I can see if you knew nothing at all about the actress' history that the book would be extremely interesting. But for me, it was light on development of other characters in her life. Time skipped ahead too fast. And I was left wanting.
I loved Carnegie’s Maid so I was excited that Marie Benedict had a new book coming out. It is an interesting take on Hedy LaMarr’s life. However, one thing that irritated me was the reference to the “adoption” of her son James. He is referred to as a refuge from a European country in the book. The author portrays it like Hedy saved James. I know that this book is historical fiction, but from everything I read, Hedy said James was adopted only because he was actually her illegitimate son.
It cannot be overstated that the subject and narrator of this book -- the incomparable and sublime stage and screen actress Hedy Lamarr -- has one of the most improbably fascinating stories one could tell, and this book does the reader a great service in making Miss Lamarr's incredible story more widely known. As with the best in historical fiction, THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM leaves me wanting to find more primary sources and biographies of Hedy Lamarr's life and times, so that I might know this remarkable woman in more detail. But it's in the telling of such an amazing tale that I found this book a bit lacking.
Put simply, to tell this tale with any true depth of emotional credulity it needed to be much longer and more fleshed-out than it was. The book is PACED as a thriller, and there it succeeds; I kept turning pages well into the night, especially in the first half, to see how Miss Lamarr would navigate the tangled webs of marital and political intrigue in which she found herself ensnared. But as a piece of historical fiction rooted in the narrator's need to prove herself as something more than just a pretty face, I couldn't find the depth I needed to connect Hedy's eventual emotions -- especially her guilt at leaving Austria at a crucial time in its history for the glitz and glamor of Hollywood -- to her first-person character. The breakneck pace of the first half has a smoky noir sensibility perfectly suited for its subject matter; but that pace, by definition, leaves out a more inward-focused narrative that could help explain Hedy's later conflicts once the plot settles into its less-frantic second half.
** Mild Spoilers Ahead **
The first half of this book is a cracking read, full of fascinating political machinations tied to the very fate of an Austria hanging between Italy's burgeoning fascism and Hitler's thirst for reunification and conquest. This had me riveted, as Hedy juggles duty to her family, her often violent arms-dealing husband, and her country. Her adoring father -- whose insistence that Hedy grow up reading about politics and science clashes with her disapproving mother's sense of propriety -- puppeteers Hedy into a union with Austria's wealthiest man, in an effort to save them all should Hitler succeed in unifying Germany and Austria and bring with him the purging antisemitism of the Nazi party. Oh, did I forget to mention Hedy and her family are Jewish? That's because, as a reader, I often felt like the story neglects that point, too; I found myself wanting to fear for their safety as the looming threat of Nazism pressed against Austria's borders, but Hedy's narrative nonchalance -- a sort of, "Oh, yes, we're Jewish!" casualness that is never given any real weight or substance -- never made this a worry.
By the novel's second half, Hedy spends a good deal of time internalizing her guilt over fleeing Austria with a head full of secrets that may have aided the Allies in preparing for war with Hitler, which left me rolling my eyes a bit. With no convincing countervailing forces to stop her, Hedy could easily have visited the War Department for a quick debrief and been back on Sunset Boulevard for tea, or at the very least dumped everything she knew into an anonymous letter and sent it to FDR COD. But I think once the second half saw Hedy safely to American shores and thus lacked any physical threats, it needed an internal conflict to propel Hedy's actions. This is probably all entirely accurate to Hedy's true story, it just doesn't make for terribly compelling narrative in a historical thriller.
The writing here is solid and efficient, if sometimes repetitive; I often got the feeling that Ms Benedict had written individual chapters in silos and then stitched them together without a second or third draft to smooth the transitions together. Hedy will tell us something in one chapter and then repeat that thing almost verbatim in the next, not trusting us to remember. By the last third of the book I felt like there was a downhill plunge to get it finished, and many plot points both small and large -- her adopted refugee child; her many post-marriage relationships; her film career itself -- are left hanging for us to sew up ourselves. An epilogue set in the late 90s (Hedy died in 2000) in which she looks back over the totality of her career and its effects on American culture and technology, might have been useful to sum it all up for us.
Ultimately I wanted more of and from this book. There's an incredible and fascinating story in its heroine, one that should be told and told often. It's a fun, quick read that should keep you engaged from start to finish; I just wanted more.
There is no doubt that Hedy Lamarr (born Hedy Kiesler) is an influential and inspirational woman in history. She had a brilliant, inventive scientific mind and deserved recognition for it. As a teen, Hedy was already taking the entertainment world by storm in her home country of Austria. Gifted with flawless beauty and acting talent, Hedy quickly found herself in leading roles both on and off the stage. Soon, she caught the attention of the infamous Fritz Mandl, who made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Soon, Hedy found herself held prisoner in a marriage that was literally life and death. After encountering a series of tragic circumstances, Hedy decides to make a run for it. Ending up in America, she establishes a successful new life on the silver screen in Hollywood. Despite having successfully escaped the horrors of her abusive marriage and the impending invasion of the Third Reich, Hedy carries the heavy weight of guilt, realizing that her role as a silent, beautiful statue hasn’t changed all that much. Desperate to make a real name for herself, to show the world that she is more than ‘just a woman’, and to atone for guilt she feels about the past she left behind, Hedy discovers something incredible—something with the potential to stop WWII in its tracks.
Like I said, a fascinating story, just not really fascinating in the way Benedict delivered it. It was an easy enough read, although slow throughout the first half. It wasn’t until the last third of the book that I started feeling really hopeful that we were finally going to get to know Hedy. But then, it was over and I was left still wanting more from her. Hedy faced devastating abuse, adversity and tragedy. We are told about Hedy’s life and experiences, but there wasn’t any emotional connection. I didn’t feel connected to Hedy as a character, and I didn’t feel Hedy had any emotional connection to her circumstances. Certain details and relationships were just dropped in, seemingly insignificant, but I can’t imagine that they were. I know that each one of the people that rotated in and out of her life played a role in how she saw herself and how she interpreted her purpose in the world. There is a deeper level to the iceberg that is Hedy Lamarr that I don’t feel was touched on in this novel. A great historical account, but lacking a little in the creative touches I appreciate most with regards to character development.
First, let's get one thing clear. I don't care much for books written in the first person. It gives too limitd a view of the events and the story.
The other thing that botherd me was that the author is trying to impose a 21st century feminist view on a woman and period that had an entirely different worldview. When a writer tries to impose her vision of the world on a previous generation that is living in very different situations, there is a definite weakness built into the plot.
Finally, Like many women from the early days of what became the computing industry, Miss Lamar is one of my heroes. This book dies not do her justice.
All that said, it is an entertaining and interesting look at the German and Hollywood world as ermany rolls into WWII.
Scary early life, while married to Nazi control-freak. She cleverly escapes and gets to USA. Meets Lou.B Mayer, out negotiates him for her salary, and lands a Hollywood contract, all while avoiding the casting couch. Then she brilliantly collaborates with a musical composer to invent a guidance system for torpedoes. And I thought she was just a Pretty Face.
I wanted to like The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict more than I did. The author does present a compelling story about the early life of actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr, and the obstacles she faced in a culture that valued her beauty more than her brains. However, despite Lamarr’s desire to be recognized for her intelligence, much of the book portrays her as willing to use her beauty when it serves her purpose. The book ends--somewhat abruptly -- with the U.S. Navy’s rejection of Lamarr’s design for alternating radio frequency signals that would allow for the remote control of torpedoes – the very technology that enables today’s cell phone and GPS systems. I wanted to know more about her life going forward.
Ms Lamarr's life is certainly interesting and the author does a laudable job in diving deep where necessary and providing minimal details when not necessary for the pseudo biography. But then, the book just stopped in the mid-40's leaving out the balance of her film career, what happened to mama, the subsequent marriages, the problems with her son, and the downward spiral in Florida. Maybe there's a part 2 forthcoming; however, is it worth it? I expected better from this author as her other non-fiction is exceptional.