national Arts Festival Banner

Monday, September 28, 2020


This book is a powerfully written story that combines fact and fiction in a finely woven, intricately entwined tale of what actually happened and “what ifs”. (Review by Fiona de Goede)

What if Hillary had said no the third time Bill proposed? How would things have turned out for them, for America, for the world? This is the question the author asks – and answers - in the novel Rodham written by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Hillary Diane Rodham is a highly intelligent and ambitious woman who knows, from a young age, that she wants to make a difference and wants to make her mark on the world. At the beginning of the novel, beautifully illustrated and with fascinating detail, the reader gets to know the young Hillary and realizes that she is ahead of her time. At Wellesley, at her graduation, she makes her first groundbreaking speech that is so powerful that it attracts national media attention, including that of Life magazine.

She attends Yale Law School where, in 1969 as a first year, only about 10% of the students are female. It is during her second year at Yale that she first sees Bill Clinton and is immediately drawn to his physical presence and she compares his stature and appearance to that of a lion.

The first half of the book deals with Hillary’s relationships with her family, school friends and students and, of course, her growing feelings towards Bill. As their feelings for one another develop into a more serious relationship, she follows him to Arkansas. Bill Clinton, from a very early stage, has his political career very clearly mapped out. Hillary supports him in these endeavours and assists him in his campaigns to earn votes. She pursues her own career during this time of being his girlfriend but she definitely takes a step back in her own ambitions to help him fulfil his dream of one day, becoming president.

An incident that is brought to Hillary’s attention and which Bill denies, is the catalyst that causes her to leave Bill. At the age of twenty-three she walks away from the man that she truly loved and it’s the hardest thing she has ever had to do.

The second half of the book deals with Hillary Rodham without Bill. It focuses on her career and her political life. This is where the reader needs to be able to come to grips with what is fiction and what is historical fact. At times it felt quite surreal and it was rather challenging getting one’s head around the real and the unreal life of Hillary Rodham.

Once one comes to grips with this, it becomes more fascinating to imagine what could have perhaps happened if Hillary had indeed said no to Bill Clinton. There are parts of the book that deal extensively with politics, fundraising and campaigning and this allows the reader a glimpse into the workings behind the scenes of electioneering and campaigning. Of course, no presidential campaign is ever fought, or won, without playing dirty and without accusations being flung in all directions. Hillary Rodham has her fair share of this and how she deals with it is intriguing.

This book is a powerfully written story that combines fact and fiction in a finely woven, intricately entwined tale of what actually happened and what ifs.

Curtis Sittenfeld is a wonderful author and I have always been a fan of her work. Several of her other books, American Wife, Sisterland, The Man of my Dreams, to mention a few, I thoroughly enjoyed but Rodham, in my opinion is probably her most ambitious novel to date. Having said that though, I suspect readers will either love it or hate it. I doubt whether there will be an in-between emotion when it comes to this book!

Rodham is published by Penguin Random House - ISBN 978-0-8575-2613-7 - Fiona de Goede