“Lady Clementine” is one of Marie Benedict’s righteous novels focused on unearthing the untold stories of prominent women in history. All of her books center on hidden historical stories of women; this fiction in particular concentrates on the life of Clementine Churchill, the wife of well-recognized British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The novel follows Clementine and her relationship with Winston closely, shifting tones from World War I, to the interwar period, to World War II.
Using Clementine’s first-person perspective, Benedict brings her protagonist to life through her intelligent remarks, quick wit and observant nature. Benedict paints Clementine as incredibly human with her candor and the inclusion of self-doubt that shapes both the book and Clementine’s overall life. Despite her insecurities, Clementine grows increasingly confident in her attempts to stand up for what is right, no matter the consequence. Her true notable role in the British Parliament is unveiled within this novel; Clementine is much more than just a wife to Mr. Churchill, a sentiment almost immediately clarified by Clementine herself.
Her story is told in such a personal manner that the book reads as if it were one of Clementine’s resurrected personal diaries. Her struggles as a mother and the strains in her marriage are only heightened by the tension of war, the pressure of the political atmosphere weighing heavily on her and Winston’s shoulders. This constantly pushes the book forward with the several layers of conflict that Benedict beautifully braids together. We are exposed to all elements of Clementine’s life, and the inclusion of these issues makes her story feel as real as if it was written during these trying times when she was still unsure of how her future would unfold. Benedict is able to tell Clementine’s story knowing the results and impacts of the events discussed without undermining Clementine’s own fears and doubts.
The periods of the book set during WWI and WWII were most gripping for me; the well-researched historical inclusions of Benedict are enough to pique interest, though the usage of the perspective of someone as crucial yet unknown as Clementine Churchill permitted these familiar and tragic retellings of war to be told in a new way. It was strange reading about the events of these wars from the perspective of a woman since the view of women and their plight are often left out of history textbooks, along with the perspectives of other minority groups; regularly ignored by her own husband and the majority of parliament, Clementine makes it her mission to fight for the rights of these groups and encourage a greater consciousness of all the people involved and affected by the policies of those with power.
Nevertheless, her lack of power, especially in the face of general resentment from other political figures, diminishes her efforts. The frustration she faces routinely sends Clementine into sicknesses that cause her to leave home in order to recuperate. This cycle repeats itself several times during the novel and leaves Clementine with the same anxieties: feeling like a bad wife and mother for leaving; dreading a return to the draining duties required of her to keep the house in order, take care of her family and continue her work as a political correspondent. Though understandable, her frequent trips away from her family and the resulting consequences slow the plot, taking away from the otherwise eventful and suspenseful novel.
The interwar period is not as strong overall in comparison to Benedict’s tellings of the gruesome events of the war; there is less happening in Clementine’s life and the lack of action encouraged her repetitive spirals. She is a powerful force during the wars, called the “secret weapon” by Winston as she takes on an essential role for the advancement of Britain and the execution of her husband’s demands. Even so, the “secret weapon” nickname coined by Winston is not as rewarding for me as it is to Clementine. If anything, it is an accurate label for the insufficient recognition Clementine receives for her pivotal influence.
Benedict’s goal of highlighting the significance of Clementine was well-achieved. The blend of Clementine’s personal and diplomatic endeavors enables an engaging atmosphere, especially as we enter the tense political discourse during the wars where Clementine’s most vivid presence is portrayed.