Monday, July 13, 2009

Frances Osborne's "The Bolter"

Frances Osborne worked as a barrister and investment research analyst before becoming a full-time writer. Her first book, Lilla’s Feast: A True Story of Love, War and a Passion for Food, was listed as a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Bolter, and reported the following:
The Bolter is the true story of Idina Sackville, an extremely adventurous English aristocrat who divorced five times in the 1920’s and 30’s, had lovers without number and hosted partner-swapping party games in her farmhouse in Kenya. Page 99 is in fact the turning point that sets her off on this turbulent course. It is July 1918, Britain is four years into the First World War, and Idina realizes that her first husband and lasting love, Euan Wallace, might leave her for a younger, prettier woman. Idina decides that, unlike her mother, Idina was going to do the leaving – the “bolting” - rather than be the one left behind. She went, as she did everything, in style and fled to Africa. This was an era of women’s liberation and several of Idina’s girlfriends were divorcing their “unsatisfactory” husbands and seeking adventure abroad – the new gentlewomen explorers. In Idina’s case this was a decision that she would spend the rest of her life striving to make up for – not least because she was unable to take her two tiny sons with her. The elder of those two sons was my grandfather.

Idina’s first marriage was partly a casualty of the social upheaval of the First World War. Beforehand, extra-marital affairs had been near institutionalized amongst Britain’s Edwardian Upper Classes. There was a strict code of practice which was “you can do what you like in the bedroom, but don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” Absolute discretion needed to be maintained and this was principally achieved by only becoming involved with other married friends, and never divorcing. The death of so many young men changed all that, and even married men became targets. In the rest of page 99, Euan Wallace returns to the Front and we follow his diaries. Whereas only a year earlier he was spending every spare minute writing to Idina, he now spends up to “half a morning” writing to another woman.
Read an excerpt from The Bolter, and learn more about the book and author at Frances Osborne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue