Book reviews

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I came to The Aviator’s Wife, the story of Anne Morrow, Charles Lindbergh’s wife by Melanie Benjamin after reading The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb and Alice I Have Been by this same author. All are fictionalised accounts of real people.

The Aviator’s Wife is narrated by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who was a shy diplomat’s daughter when she met Charles Lindbergh. He had recently completed the world’s first transatlantic flight, travelling from New York to Paris in a single-engine monoplane, the Spirit of St Louis. From that moment on he was a hero, targeted by the press and unable to be anonymous or left alone anywhere except in the air.

Anne and Charles married, despite this story being unclear about whether or not they were ever in love with each other. Anne saw Charles as a hero and he saw her as good breeding material, unaware that her brother had mental health issues and that her sister was a lesbian. If he had known, it seems likely he would not have married Anne.

Anne learned to fly and became the first American woman to fly a glider. She also learned to navigate and acted as crew for her husband on many of his flights, and in addition, wrote best-selling books about their travels. Later, she published poetry, letters and diaries, and inspirational writing, of which she is best known for Gift from the Sea, a book of musings.

Anne and Charles’ first child was kidnapped for ransom and sadly, later found murdered. Later they moved to Europe to avoid the media who continued to dog them wherever they went. They went on to have another six children together.

Charles seems to have been an unpleasant man and is portrayed as being pro-Hitler, an anti-Semite, arrogant, cold and unemotional, while Anne, despite her accomplishments, appeared to be submissive and, particularly in comparison with her husband, unimportant. The author almost glosses over Anne’s long affair with the Lindbergh family doctor. Charles’ affairs with at least three women, resulting in his fathering an additional seven children is never explained satisfactorily either. Perhaps there is no explanation for either…

The Aviator’s Wife should have been fascinating, but wasn’t. The bare facts of this story tell of extraordinary lives but the narrator’s passive voice left me feeling uninterested and uninspired. My lasting impression is that Charles was a difficult man and Anne a doormat and that each would have lived a happier life married to someone else.

I’ve been a bit hit and miss with Melanie Benjamin. While I enjoyed the story of the real Alice in Wonderland, I didn’t like Tom Thumb’s or Charles Lindbergh’s Missus at all. If I read anything else by this author, I’ll look for pure fiction rather than fictionalised accounts of real people’s lives.

Comments on: "The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin" (9)

  1. Hmm… it does seem a bit pointless to do a fictionalised biography and then leave so much unexplained or glossed over. However, I’m pleased to learn she had other children after the tragedy – a factlet I didn’t know…

  2. I should have mentioned in my post that I was also irritated by not learning more about her writing, not the flying stuff but her own writing, as it was glossed over too.
    It would have been a brave thing to have more children after the first child’s death, for both of them. I think they would have been an unhappy couple anyway but losing a child would end a lot of marriages.

  3. Well! I have a ‘thing’ about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I’ve read most of her diaries, A Gift from the Sea and other stuff although it was quite a while ago now. I knew that her diaries were selective – but there’s a whole lot in this novel that is totally new to me. I think I shall have to read this in part to learn more about the author’s sources and also to almost certainly disagree with the way Anne is portrayed. Fascinating!

  4. I’ll be interested to hear what you make of The Aviator’s Wife, Sandra. Now you’ve got me wondering about reading her diaries and A Gift from the Sea for myself.
    Your choice of the word ‘selective’ is interesting too, we probably all think or write our own history to suit ourselves, but when she was writing, she wouldn’t have imagined that so many of her personal details would be available to others in today’s world. The facts of her life certainly were fascinating (and so easy to learn from Wikipedia, etc!).

  5. As I recall, her diaries were heavily edited for publication. There’s nothing negative in them about her husband for example. This thread has sent me back to Wikipedia and beyond. So much I didn’t know: the Hertog biography wasn’t published then. I want to start exploring her life all over again now!

  6. Just catching up on some old posts (!!) – a while back I read A Gift From the Sea, which is a beautiful collection of essays that really stuck with me – definitely recommended. Reading those, it’s hard to believe that Anne was a spineless doormat to an overbearing husband. I also read Charles’s Spirit of Saint Louis, his account of his famous flight, and recommend that as well – it includes so much of his childhood and background, which I personally found very intriguing. His later politics are a complicated tangle of threads, and it sounds as though this author decided to take the easy route of just making him the villain of the piece, when I think there are actually many more layers to decipher and consider. But all in all, I’m not sure I completely agree with the creation of fictionalized accounts (especially “autobiographies”) of real people. I’m sure I wouldn’t like it if someone came along a few decades after I was gone and wrote a book “explaining” my private life from their perspective! 😀

  7. Well, Sarah, you and I had better burn our own diaries! Although mine would be dull reading without embellishments from a more inventive writer!
    I’m planning to read A Gift From the Sea and some of both Charles and Anne’s other writings to get another perspective on both of these people as I don’t think the author can have done them justice. Anne couldn’t have achieved all she did if she was such a doormat, although I can imagine a hero such as Charles not ever having anyone say no to him, or telling him to pull his head in…

  8. Oh wow, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this book! I absolutely loved it and have since gone on to read one of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s books (Gift from the Sea).

  9. I’m keen to read Gift From the Sea and more about the Lindbergh’s too. The things that annoyed me in this book annoyed me in this author’s other books too, am looking out for some straight fiction by her instead.

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